As the weather has turned more summer-like over the past week I’ve been drawn to work outside and, since I don’t yet have a garden to speak of,  the lawn has dominated my attention. Fortunately for me, I guess, it needs a lot of work. It is overgrown with crabgrass, clovers (which I don’t mind as much), various kinds of moss, and of course dandelions. And not the normal dandelions. We’re talking ginormous dandelions, like the ones that were exposed to “ooze” in the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. And as I stooped over to pull one of these freakishly large weeds out with the help of a very cool stabby tool, I was struck with a thought. “To make this a really nice lawn,” thought I, “all I have to do is get rid of everything that is not the lawn.”

And then I had an even bigger aha moment… That’s just like writing! To craft a really great story, you must get rid of everything that is not your story. Usually that means cutting unnecessary words or sentences. Sometimes it means striking chapters. As I worked, I was struck with more lawn maintenance/writing analogies. Morbidly curious? Read on!

1. Flowery words, like dandelions, are best removed before they take over.

2. A lawn looks best when it’s mowed, but not when it’s too short. The same goes for wordiness. If you can say it in fewer words, do. But don’t strip your prose down so far that all you can see is dirt.

3. Fixing the punctuation in your manuscript before taking care of major plot issues is like weeding a patch of lawn that you’re going to tear out the next day to build a planter.

4. Even if your house is really really great, it’s hard to see it past a lawn like this:

There are just some writing rules that should never be broken. Like proper punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. You can say that those things are the editor’s job to worry about, but I’m pretty sure most editors and agents aren’t looking for manuscripts that need quite that much work. A lawn that needs to be edged and mowed, maybe, but not a yard full of weeds.

5. When you’re pulling dandelions, make sure you get the roots too. If you don’t, they’ll just grow back again and again. In other words, when you receive feedback on your work, don’t just blindly make changes without finding where the problem is stemming from. If it’s good advice, break it down to its basic elements and incorporate it into your writing philosophy so it doesn’t keep popping up (some examples of this that I’ve seen are the misuse of it’s/its, there/their/they’re, etc.; the writing of characters that lack logical motivation; and being repetitive and redundant in an attempt at being descriptive).


6. If there are just too many weeds, it may be best to just kill everything and start over.