Pulling Weeds

Some people love to weed their gardens. From what I’ve read, they derive a deep satisfaction from getting their hands in the dirt and ousting the weeds that threaten their flowers and vegetables.

And then there are people like me, who will pull a few weeds if it occurs to us, but are otherwise inclined to live and let live. After all, what is a weed but volunteer plant that is simply misplaced? Besides, some volunteer plants are good. Every year, I end up with at least a couple foxgloves that I didn’t plant, the seeds dropped by some passing bird. The one time I tried to plant foxgloves, they died almost immediately, but the volunteers are hardier, their flowers lasting for days at a time.

But then there are the unpleasant weeds, the ones that want to take over the garden. Their roots run underground so that pulling them up means unearthing an entire root system. Left undisturbed long enough, they become tough, their stalks wooden, until they’re like trying to dig up a small tree. In my area, there are some notorious weeds that begin as innocuous, delicate-looking plants, only to vine around trees or whatever else they can find. Removing them means not only digging up the source if it can be found, but throwing the cut-away vines into the trash to keep them from adhering to new trees in the woods. Disposing of these weeds is essential to enable the trees and other plants to survive and flourish.

A couple weeks ago, I began to put the gardens to bed for the winter. I cut back the dead and dying hostas, spyria, astilbes, and that one plant I bought years ago at the farmers market, a plant whose name I don’t know but which produces a crown of tall stalks with blue flowers every spring. Yesterday, after two weeks of rain, the weather was perfect, and so I tackled the back garden. It was a mighty fight, far worse than the front gardens: I had to double-glove to avoid the prickers on some of the invasive vines (only somewhat successfully), and I needed a shovel to dig up as much of others as I could.

While I pulled weeds, my wind drifted back to my novel. It’s been two weeks since I completed Draft #1. As is my practice, I’ve left it to rest. I need to forget what I wrote so I can pick it up and read it like a reader. This, I find, is a good approach for finding the bumps and ruts, the plot holes and redundancies. I also have a pile of notes I’ve jotted as thoughts flit through my brain while I carefully leave the work to marinate.

As I yanked and tugged and traced pricker vines through the bushes to get to their sources, it occurred to me that editing a book bears a strong resemblance to pulling weeds. Some bits—clunky words, awkward metaphors, factual inaccuracies—are obvious, and they can be easily removed with a quick tug by deletion of a few words or sentences. Others are more firmly embedded in the plot, requiring them to be dug out and the remaining hole filled with something more fitting. Still others are like the pricker vines, requiring surgical dexterity to trace them back to their origin in the story and extricate them, unwinding them from whatever portions of the story they’ve wrapped themselves around.

This week, when I sit down to read Draft #1, part of me will read simply as a reader does. The other part—the writer part—will have a pen and tablet at the ready, prepared to mark whatever weeds need to be pulled or dug out. I’ll clear the story of extraneous, life-sapping weedy bits and pricker vines that twist and wind through the plot. With any luck, I’ll even unearth—or plant—more ideas, the kind which produce glorious bursts of color that resonate with the reader long after the book is finished.

4 thoughts on “Pulling Weeds

  1. Absolutely, weeding is an editorial task for any gardener. Back in NJ, I remember the spring garden cleanout as pretty strenuous, lasting until exhaustion called it quits and I discovered the bower that remained.

    Liked by 1 person

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