Writing books and pruning trees

Apple trees in spring

Spring is here, and that means gardening season.  The parallels between writing and gardening are many, and have been appreciated by writers for generations – planting a seed, nurturing the sprouts, weeding out what is unnecessary, watching it blossom, etc.

A few weeks ago, I set out to prune an apple tree and was confronted by a massive maze of branches. The spindly sticks overlapped in all directions, making it nearly impossible to see which branches constituted the main structure of the tree, the ones that formed the backbone and needed room to grow.

I could not think how to begin, but I did notice one branch that obviously needed to go. It twisted up against another branch so that they seemed to be wrestling to the death. So I picked up the shears and lopped it off, and it came down with all its spindly branches like a giant urchin.

As soon as this branch was gone, my view of the tree became much clearer, I could see the main shape as it should be, and noticed other branches that could be taken away. With each branch I cut, the true nature of the tree became clearer.

So it is with editing a manuscript, sometimes just taking away one piece will allow you to see the rest with more clarity. And pruning a manuscript has one distinct advantage over pruning a tree – if you change your mind, you can always put the words back.