Literary Landscaping

U.S. Air Force photo by Greg Allen

I was weeding around the shrubs in my yard this weekend, which gave me a lot of time to reflect on what matters. My answer: Nothing. That’s right. Nothing matters. Let me explain.

Maybe you need a better idea of the scene. Setting is super-important, yes? Picture a vast sea of plants, some with round leaves, some with spiky leaves, all different heights, all weeds. Vines that curl insidiously around azaleas and rhododendrons, slowly strangling them. I yank and chop and rake. Dirt flies. A wind takes my lawn bag off into the street where it meets its end on the grill of a pickup.

Where should I attack next? Why does it look like I’ve done absolutely nothing? I’ve spent hours of my life and have nothing to show for it. I pull more weeds out of the same spot again and again. Like a green hydra, whatever I pull seems to have grown back in minutes and multiplied. Where are all these unwanted plants coming from? Is there somebody in China, on the other side of the world, pushing theirs down through the center of the earth so that they come up in my yard? (That would be brilliant!) My goal of producing a weed-free yard, which seemed so possible, even easy, now seems out of reach.

This is a lot like writing, I think. Welcome to my metaphor. I write and write, editing the same sections over and over. I keep yanking weeds, pulling them out of my paragraphs and sentences, untangling the vines to find their roots. There’s always more pesky, unwanted words appearing. I don’t know where they come from. (Must be from somebody on the opposite side of the world.) It’s enough to make me give up, to convince myself it doesn’t matter.

I would love if my yard looked like the yard of the two guys next door, perfect people with everything done perfectly down to the perfect landscapers that come twice a month. Their grass is pure, their shrubs, vine-free. Not a dead leaf from last year in sight. In the same way, I would love if my  novel could be like the books of people I know from workshops and classes: clear images, characters that breathe with life, sentences like music. While I don’t think my yard will ever be like the neighbors’ (the A in that SMART goals acronym, after all, means “attainable”), I feel like if I keep going, keep yanking those weeds, new grass will eventually grow.

So wait. I suppose all of this does matter. All this clearing of weeds and unneeded sentences, all this cutting and editing, will lead to something good. Like the new grass, my novel will someday be lush with words and free of weedy adverbs. The dry leaves from last year will be the mulch and the inspiration for new growth. My book won’t be perfect, but it will smell like spring. And I will dance on it, in bare feet.


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