At about this time last month, I planted my first garden since moving to South Dakota, and my second garden in my whole life. My first garden was almost 100% neglected, and I still got some vegetables at the end of the summer, which taught me that cucumbers and zucchini are the best veggies for a negligent gardener.
This year, I resolved to do better. Except.
I let the whole month pass with very little weeding.
The lack of weeding was, admittedly, partly due to laziness. But it was also due to inexperience. When I first started seeing green sprout up from the patch of dirt, I was elated. Something was growing! I watered profusely. Everything in the garden grew. And grew. And grew. Until I started to suspect that a lot of what I saw were weeds. (I didn’t recognize them right away because I’m so inexperienced with gardening that I didn’t know what the vegetables I planted were supposed to look like when they first came up.)
Yesterday, we bought a hoe at Big Lots, and I took it out to do some serious weeding.
There was a moment of despair when I realized 85% of that green I’d been so proud of a few weeks ago had grown into ugly, insistent weeds. In fact, the whole garden seemed to be monstrous weeds. There was a moment when I wondered whether there was even a point to tackling it.
But I’d promised my husband I would if he cleaned the bathroom, and the bathroom was already gleaming.
So, I put the new hoe to work.
I was brutal.
I chopped through the weed canopy until I noticed that, underneath it all, there were some plants that looked, well, different.
Underneath it all, cilantro, carrots, beets, green beans, watermelon, sugar snap peas, and cucumber were making a go of it, despite the hostile weeds.
I got down on my knees then and started doing precision weeding, carefully separating the weeds from the vegetables, pulling the weeds up by the roots and tossing them aside. My frustration started to dissolve. The work started to feel rewarding. There was something worth saving after all!
I couldn’t help but be reminded of the writing (and especially the rewriting) process.
Often, a first draft looks very much like that garden overrun by weeds, especially a first draft penned during NaNoWriMo. It’s easy to write it off, to decide that it’s just not worth the trouble. But then when you go in and get your hands dirty, chopping down the “weeds” of unnecessary scenes and cumbersome sentence constructions, you can start to see some beautiful themes and words and images hiding in their midst. You start to feel a sense of satisfaction. You start to see something worthwhile emerge from the mess. The work starts to feel like it is worth something. And then, it’s much, much easier to continue.
Most of us start each new writing project the way I started my garden — hopeful, excited, a little scared, very naive, and then deliriously elated when something, anything starts to take shape … to be subsequently overwhelmed when you realize that maybe what you’ve been cultivating isn’t what you wanted after all.
Or maybe it is, if you look a little closer, and aren’t afraid to chop and pull mercilessly until you’re reminded that the good stuff really was there, all along.