This past Friday I finished the first complete draft of the screenplay I’ve been working on for the last few months. I’m feeling pretty good about the screenplay for two reasons: 1) I think it is well-written, and 2) I am FINALLY done with the first draft.
For now, I’ll focus on, and be content with, reason number two. This is because I’ll soon start sharing the draft with folks, and THEY will let me know whether they think it is well written. After I recover from that experience, it will be time to move forward with the second draft. And there is always a second draft.
Over the weekend I took myself away from writing and I worked in the garden. September in Central Ohio means pushing back against overgrown plants, rescuing plants that have been overwhelmed, dividing and transplanting perennials, and pruning and shaping trees and shrubs. It also means me standing back and looking with a cold hard eye at my garden as it is, acknowledging how far it has fallen from the garden that was in my mind, calculating ways to bring it closer to that original concept, and hatching ideas about how both the original and the reality can be made better.
On Saturday I decided to remove a low hanging branch from the persimmon tree. The branch was healthy and not offensive to the eye, but I had thought for some time that it failed to add to the beauty of the tree, and I knew that it cast too much shade on the asters that I’d planted beneath it.
Once I removed the branch I walked some distance away and looked the tree up and down. It was as though the branch had never been there. The cut was hidden by the asters and the upright and spreading nature of the tree was enhanced.
I accomplished two things with a single cut. I improved the look of the tree. I enriched the cultural conditions for the asters. Too much shade had made the asters lanky and sprawling. They had grown over and through the false cypress in their quest for sunlight. Next summer, the persimmon will be taller and broader and more symmetrical. Next fall the asters will be broader and wider and packed with bright lavender blossoms.
I’d looked and looked at that low hanging branch for more than a year. I knew that it wasn’t quite right, but I’d told myself that it wasn’t that bad, either. And the branch was there already so it was easy to leave it be, even though its presence rankled me.
Finally making the decision to remove the branch put me in mind of all of the edits and revisions I’d considered and put off over the years while working on drafts of plays and shorts stories. In every case I had become so wedded to certain paragraphs and to particular characters and plots that I couldn’t see how little they added to the whole or how much they inhibited progress elsewhere. Sure, that paragraph was plodding, certainly, this character was dull, clearly that plot line was going nowhere, but they were ALREADY THERE! The thought and the effort that it was going to take to make things better! Good lord. It made me weary.
But just because something is already there – character, plot, or errant tree limb – is not enough to justify its presence. Writer or gardener, you have to stand back. You need to cast that cold hard eye. You must acknowledge how far the reality is from the original concept. Because that’s when you start to hatch the fresh ideas. And that’s when you begin to make the garden and the writing better.