I have a weakness for British gardening shows. It’s no secret that I’ll take Monty Don over a high-stakes drama any day. Lost in the wilderness of my current novel revisions, it occurs to me that the gardeners and I undertake much the same work. Our end goal, no matter whether our medium is a garden or a book, is to plant the seed of something positive. Perhaps we wish to create a place to escape, one to spark curiosity or even a space to heal and nurture.
When overhauling a garden, the first step is usually to clear out the space. Cut back the dead prose, the passages with no life or energy, that are no longer working for your new vision or your new season of writing. We must make room for new growth and new ideas. Granted, this means a lot of hard work, and sure, on the surface, it can seem like a violent process: slashing and digging up all the weed-ridden info dumps and dull descriptions, but it is also invigorating. We’re not destroying, we’re creating space. Space for ourselves, for our stories, for our readers. We’re pruning back scenes to let the characters and their actions shine through like brilliant blossoms.
I don’t exactly have a green thumb, but I quite enjoy growing roses. The secret to keeping roses blooming all season is to continually trim off the dead blooms: roses thrive on new growth. And I believe, so too do novels. Both can be beautiful, fragrant gems, but as they say, every rose has its thorns. Which is to say that the revision process is never an easy or painless one. My advice: wear thick gloves, don’t be afraid of a few cuts, and go in anyway, armed with a plan and determination. You were brave enough to write a novel, you are brave enough now to revise it.
Books are surprisingly hardy creatures. Like trees, if they’re made of tough enough stuff, they can survive the worst of storms and continue to grow and thrive. They need room to grow as well as sunlight and water. In your novel, make space for the ideas you plant to germinate and grow. Cram too many ideas together and they’ll suffer, fighting with each other for the limited resources of the reader’s attention and belief. I like to imagine working on plot structure like landscaping a garden, setting a clear narrative path for the reader to wander down, and enjoy all that your novel has to offer. Let them admire your beds of character filled with all sorts of disparate plantings that come together to create a well-rounded and interesting whole. Allow them to stop and sniff the lovely aroma of your prose, notice the ingenious layout of your plot, and surprise them with hidden delights every step of the way.
Finally, I believe that books and the characters in them take on lives of their own. As such, we must allow them to grow. Sometimes this means not hovering over them with a spade and pruning sheers every minute of the day, or not fertilizing them until their tender roots start to burn, but simply walking away, and letting them get on with it. It may take a few seasons, but growth takes time. Be patient and don’t give up. Soon you will have created a garden that can be carried anywhere, a space of positivity, and growth. I believe in you.
K. A. K. Lecky is a Norwegian-American illustrator and author who is always seeking new adventures. She speaks six languages and loves to travel, feeling most at home in winter forests. She holds a bachelor’s in Medieval and Early Modern Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s in Illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Illustrating primarily in traditional watercolor and gouache, she also writes picture books, YA and adult fantasy, adult literary fiction, and graphic novel shorts.