Editing: Finding the Hidden Oak Tree…

When we bought our house almost six years ago, there was an odd little holly bush/tree thing planted right smack in the middle of the backyard. It was a weird location, but it wasn’t hurting anything, so we pretty much ignored it. Despite Himself’s attempts to keep it trimmed, it kind of got away from us, and gradually became unruly and not very attractive.

Tree Before

I made a passing comment to Himself a month or so ago that it was getting downright ugly, but that in the middle of that clump of trunks and spiky greenery, there was actually an oak tree growing tall right through it. It was as if the ugly shrub had protected that oak, and now it was flourishing.

You can imagine my surprise on Mother’s Day when Himself dragged me away from my desk (I was on a deadline!!!) and showed me his gift to me. He had cut away all the ugly stuff and left the beautiful oak tree standing alone. It was as if he gifted me a brand new twelve-foot oak tree, and I loved it (and him)!

Tree After

Every time I look into our yard now, I think of how that beautiful tree was buried in the chaotic mess of holly and vines. It’s a lesson for several things in life, including editing. As writers, we tend to go big and messy on our first drafts. In fact, we’re supposed to! We throw everything in there, including the kitchen sink. We may fall in love with scenes and sentences, but those treasures are often being choked and hidden by all the other “stuff” we’ve filled our pages with in that first draft.

When we head back in for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th or whatever drafts, that’s when we start hacking away at all the messy chaos in an attempt to find the hidden treasure of a story that works. And if we’re determined enough, and willing to chop away a few of our darlings in the process (favorite scenes that just don’t work for that particular story), sometimes we end up discovering a strong, nurtured, beautiful oak tree growing right there in front of us that we never saw before.

So, fellow writers, don’t be afraid to take the hedge clippers (or maybe even an ax!) to your first draft – just be careful not to chop down the buried treasure in the process.

And for everyone else – – – what part of your life might need a little pruning to let the treasure shine through?

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