The house we moved into in November once had stunning perennial gardens. After two seasons of neglect while the house was on the market, the flowering plants are so overgrown with weeds that it is hard to tell what’s there. It’s both a chore and an adventure to tear away the weeds, day after day, to discover the beauties underneath and allow them to flourish.
What else works this way? Cleaning out an old attic, perhaps. Ninety percent of what’s there can be thrown away, letting the delight of a forgotten childhood toy or an ancestor’s journal emerge from the dust.
While some writers refine and polish as they go, others of us generate a first draft that resembles an overgrown garden. Proposing “shitty first drafts” to avoid perfectionist paralysis, Anne Lamott wrote, “you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place.” Shaping or weeding is a separate, later series of tasks to expose the good stuff to sunlight. Tearing away the ungainly excess is both a chore and an adventure.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.