Again, my weekend was not as productive as I had hoped it would be. After fighting with sinus headaches for most of Saturday and Sunday, I ran into a scene during my editing sessions which reads clunky and rough compared to previous scenes. I know this is the type of writing I produce when following the advice of “just get it written and fix it later,” and now I am stuck in a position I hate when it comes to writing. I find myself asking if the current text is worth salvaging or if I should simply start over from scratch. Which will be easier? Which will be more time efficient? Which will get me to a point of being happy with the quality of the scene? This dilemma is why I prefer to address quality during my drafting process. Why write something I know will never make the final cut?
For the past three years, I have cultivated and maintained a wetland terrarium in my classroom at work. The first year barely anything grew, and I had to replant it several times over the course of the spring and summer. The second year, several of my plants died, but I also had a volunteer which I did not plant. This third year, I chose my plants carefully and the terrarium thrived completely. In fact, today I spent the afternoon pruning and thinning the plants growing in my little wetland terrarium, taking out at least half of the vegetation within it. And I may end up thinning it more before I allow it to go dormant for the winter.
So what does this have to do with my writing and editing process?
Well, the first two years, I attempted to grow wetland plants unsuitable for a terrarium environment. Because of their space and light requirements, these plants were doomed to fail right from the beginning. But I planted them anyway, because they were the typical wetland plants that many people recognize – sedges and rushes. When I write in order to “just get words on the page,” this is me attempting to fit my writing process to the expected. This is the writing method many writers think they’ll see in others. But my writing suffers under such “force it” methods, and it fails to thrive, just like those sedges and rushes in my terrarium.
When I focus on quality during my drafting process, however, that is similar to me matching my plantings to the terrarium environment. Thinking about the rhythm and pacing of my scenes and what they mean to the overall plotline and movement of the story provides me with an easier editing period. Instead of trying to salvage poorly-constructed dialogue and refine choppy, gangly prose, I can focus on weeding out the superfluous and trimming back my word counts. Subplots and subtext, foreshadowing and symbolism become more developed. I can spend my energies on actual storycraft rather than fixing what could have been addressed during drafting.
During this third year of cultivating my wetland terrarium, something unexpected and remarkable happened. By complete accident I brought in damselfly eggs with the water I fetch from property’s wetlands. The eggs hatched. The nymphs grew. They thrived alongside my golden saxifrage, water plantain, and swamp forget-me-nots. And eventually, during the course of several weeks in late summer, they emerged as full-grown damselflies which I released back into our wetlands.
I hope to see the same growth and success in my writing, and I wish the same for your own endeavors.