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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The "Joys" of Editing

I'm a gardener. It's one of my great joys. In the spring, my heart goes pitty-pat when the first green buds poke their heads out of the thawing ground. I begin to think of annuals, perennials and vegetables -- OH MY!

As always, as my plants begin to grow, so do the weeds. Some days it feels as though someone came and sprinkled crabgrass and dandelion seeds in my flowerbeds. There are also these incredibly tenacious weeds with an unbelieveable root system that extends for many, many feet.

The good news is, I love to weed. I admit, I’m just a little odd. I find great satisfaction in weeding – in seeing the change between wild, untamed messiness to groomed, well-kept perfection. There’s something very zen about weeding. It’s a quiet time for me and only me -- my daughter runs the other way when I suggest weeding (though I insist she tends to her own garden ... I get the rest of them), so it becomes a time of introspection. I don't listen to music or anything else that might interrupt my mind, I simply allow it to drift as I select each weedy invader and pluck it out by its roots. Then, I don't just toss it! No! I add it to my compost pile. In a bit of irony, the weeds that would have smothered and killed my gardens as they lived will feed them after they die.

I think writing is like that? We pull out not only the things that don't work in a good story, but we pluck out those ideas or characters that come to you but you don’t know what to do with them. I’ve written stories with characters I love, but where the plot line is weak or is wrong for them. When that happens, I yank them out by their roots and add them to the compost pile. Eventually, they become fodder for something else.

Nothing is ever wasted in nature. Weeds become dirt. Carcasses become food. Excrement becomes fertilizer. So is nothing ever wasted in writing. Every word is a journey toward a destination. Even when that word is plucked, or we “kill our babies”, or edit out awful scenes, they feed us. We learn from our mistakes. We use our lessons to make our writing richer, better, stronger.

Weeding, like editing, is a necessary job. Like most people dislike weeding, editing is not my favorite part of writing. I grumble and fuss and fight it. I'm in the midst of editing a novella now, and it's making me terrifically cranky. WHY can't the words just tumble off my fingers, perfect in their composition from the first moment?

Still, I know that the work I put in now will make it better. And, I know the work my editor puts in later will polish it 'til it shines.

I love a neat, orderly garden. I'm trying to grow to love editing. It's a difficult process, and I'm not sure I'll ever truly love it, but I'm getting to where I resent it just a little, tiny bit less.

Visit Marianne Arkins at her website or blog.


  1. I like what you wrote Marianne . . and how you wrote it. I enjoy gardening too, but like your daughter, weeding is not my favorite pastime.

    Very clever way - comparing editing to weeding - because, like those characters that don't fit, we know that they eventually will . . . with the help of an editor. Great post!

  2. Come over to my house an weed your heart out girl-lol! Great post; I'll never be able to weed again without thinking about editing.


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