I was trimming dead leaves from my house plants recently and thinking about how cutting out the unneeded is a crucial part of writing as well as living a healthy life, although it can be a rather painful process.
The yellow and brown leaves were keeping my Pothos from looking like the vibrant plant it is. I didn’t however, just cut them off so it could look prettier. I also know those dead leaves could be a drain on resources that it needs elsewhere and that if I cut them off a new healthy leaf will grow in its place. When my plant gets too large I remove some of the long tendrils, even though they are healthy. The plant can only support so much life through its roots. Placing the healthy cuttings into water will allow them to grow roots of their own and start a new plant.
This is a very natural part of nature, but in our writing it can be a challenge. Cutting out unnecessary words may not hurt too bad, but how about when it’s a whole chapter, that page and a half that you spent eloquently describing the sunset, or eliminating an entire character? Do you tend to fight the process? I know it doesn’t feel good, but if it slows down the pace and if it is taking away from the “health” of your story, you need to sacrifice it for the overall good. What about that well developed character you spent so much time on, but now he/she suddenly has no point? Maybe if you plant them in their own story they will grow roots? Some things can be transplanted successfully and others don’t make it. It’s sad, I know. But wouldn’t it be much worse to lose the entire book because it is overgrown to the point where it is unreadable?
How do you tell what should go and what should stay? Get the opinions of others if it isn’t clear to you. Other writers and readers can give you an unbiased view, but then you have to decide to trust them and hit that delete button.
While you are doing your gardening, look around your life. Have you lost friendships or relationships to the pruning process? I’m sure it hurt. I know it has in my life. Can you see how maybe they were a drain on you, your resources or maybe you needed to let go so they could grow elsewhere? Trust the process even when you aren’t sure of the outcome. You can only keep you healthy and by doing the trimming you allow space for new growth. You can only support so many relationships, so make them good ones.
How do you tell who should go and who should stay? You aren’t looking for a perfect friend or partner, you’re not perfect and they’re not either. I know this because there is no perfect, but there is healthy relationships. Is there mutual respect? Are you both putting the other person’s thoughts and feelings above your own? Is there room for you to grow together through the storms? Are you a support to one another?
Don’t take this and go chopping at your life with a machete! If you aren’t clear on what to do, seek counsel. A counselor would be best, however an unbiased take on the situation might be available from other people in your life.