Saturday, May 7, 2016

Kill Your Carrots

Today I went into my garden and murdered a bunch of vegetables.

Tore the perky kale out by the roots. Sliced the lovely swiss chard. Ripped apart the darling purple cabbages. And I don't even want to tell you how gruesome things got in the carrot patch.

I hate this part of gardening.

Thinning, the professionals call it, which sounds so innocuous and easy. For those of you who are non-gardeners, thinning basically means pulling out seedlings so there is more space between plants. When I first started gardening I couldn't bring myself to do it.

So what if all of the radishes grew so closely together that they never actually, um...

grew radishes?

Over the years I've tried to get a handle on my thinning aversion by experimenting with different solutions:

1. I planted seeds far apart to begin with.  (Easier said than done... some of these seeds are teeny tiny! Some never grow in the first place and there's wasted space where a plant could've been.)

2. I replanted the "thinned" seedlings in different spots around the garden. (This requires lots of work-- to dig up a seedling, roots and all, and get it going again somewhere else. And honestly, how many vegetables do I really need anyway? Example: the garden two summers ago where I had 55 basil plants.)

3. I left everything as is, without thinning. (see above: radish plants that never grow radishes because they are bunched up too closely to each other.)

In the end I came around to thinning and that is why I was outside in my garden today killing my carrots.



And much better. (sigh)

Also, a million times easier than what I've been doing inside my home:

Over the past few weeks I've been finishing up work on the second draft of a novel. I started the revision back in September and I was confident, then, that I could whip the thing into shape by Thanksgiving. I mean, Christmas. I mean, February. I mean, Spring Break.

I mean, two weeks from now.

One of the things that has tripped me up was holding onto my first draft.

As often happens with second drafts, this book has morphed into something different from what I originally thought it was. (better, I hope!) The story tightens up. The characters come into focus. The plot crystallizes and smaller sub plots fall away. Things I thought were important in the first draft don't make sense any more. Strands. Minor characters. Dialogue I love--funny bits, heartbreaking interchanges between people I've grown to believe are real.

Entire scenes. The first fifty pages. The last. The title.

All of it-- this stuff that once worked but no longer does-- has got to go.

Oh! I do NOT want to do this!

I fight to hold onto it every step of the way. Maybe I can shoehorn in this perfectly crafted sentence Here? Maybe there's a place for this scene--at least half of it-- the one I enjoyed writing so much the first time around?

And inevitably, after much hopeful fiddling, I give up, resigned. And Snip.  



Now I don't even miss it. Now I can't even remember what was so great about that bit in the first place.

"In writing, you must kill your darlings," William Faulkner once said.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Whatever, Bill. I know.


  1. I agree! A tough part of revision. I save the best deleted pieces in another file, as if maybe I will ever use them. It's highly unlikely, but it makes me feel better.

    1. I've got a cut file too, Yvonne. Have never gone back into it... but I'm like you, it makes me feel better to know it's there :)

    2. Me, too! It makes it psychologically easier to cut things.