Everyone knows that toddler + garden = dirtfest, but it’s also true that writer + work-in-progress = dirtfest. Hey–you knew it was going to be that kind of metaphor, didn’t you? So I want to talk a bit about the dirty work of revising. Because I’ve done a lot of that in the past two years, most of it successfully, but when you’re inside the process it can feel, well, like digging a hole. I’ve said before how much I love editing, but big revising–taking out chunks and adding new scenes or even characters–can be superfun, or it can be tough, slow and exhausting. It can feel like you’ve got this huge field to till and your back’s already aching.
A few years ago I was working on a novel related to the one that’s being released at the end of this summer (more on that one soon!). Let’s call the soon-to-be-released one G1 and the second one G2. I’d set myself the goal of finishing draft two of G2 because I had some time to devote to writing then, but as so often happens, soon that time would be gone, never to be seen again. I think I made the mistake (and I’ve made it since…hmm, must start learning from these) of writing my way through problems and unknowns in the plot in the same way a rhinoceros crashes through the bush. But I got the draft written, right? Well, revising such a bush-whack of a draft proved to be frustrating and I ended up re-rewriting the whole second half. Again.
That’s not to say I didn’t feel closer to the result I wanted–every draft is a step forward, I think. But there’s also a balance between patience–waiting for the draft to tell you what it wants, what the characters need–and rhinocerosing your way through.
I’ll be honest here: I’m not sure how a rhinoceros got into a post about dirt and writing. Oh, tangential metaphors, how sneaky you are.
Next time–and I still need to pick up G2 after a three or four year haitus–I want to take a gentler approach. There’s so much fertile ground (ah, we’re back in the garden!) in a draft, and instead of being impatient, I want to wait and listen. Read. I guess for me, once I’ve read a draft, I just want to make it better and I go into overdrive, when likely what’s needed is a little restraint. Like the time I planted one whole raised bed with salad greens so close together that I had to thin half of them out just so the lucky survivors could breathe.
Here’s the thing. When Little e sits down in the dirt, she knows she’s going to be there for a good long while and that she’ll find things she never knew existed if she’s patient and curious. She’s not afraid to explore, feel, taste and look at things from all angles. She’s not afraid to really get dirty and maybe come across things that scare her. She is fully present. She is in the dirt.
Another lesson to learn from the garden and the baby…