In this climate, fruit trees and vines are usually pruned between late fall, after the leaves have fallen, and early spring, before new growth begins. My husband and I like to do it on warm winter days when we want to work outside but it’s too early to garden.
I cut my reading teeth on the old classics, written when language was flowing and flowery. Consequently, when I began writing my own stories, I followed the wordy example of my teachers.
Keeping my writing clean and concise was difficult for me at first. For one thing, it seemed wrong to cut off all that beauty. Or at least, what I perceived as such. For another, old habits are hard to break even when you’re convinced of the need for it. Which, at first, I wasn’t.
When I finally realized wordiness is more clumsy than cute, I discovered something surprising. That is, the most helpful guide for trimming the fat from my fiction was the same book that taught me the art of pruning: Lewis Hill’s marvelously practical resource, Fruits and Berries for the Home Garden.
For several years now, I’ve been applying Mr. Hill’s guidelines to my apple trees, grape vines, and writing with equal success.
For instance: why do we prune?
1 – To remove diseased, broken, or old branches;
2 – To thin out extra limbs;
3 – To remove crossed limbs and prevent weak divisions;
4 – To allow more light to reach the inner branches;
5 – Removing old limbs that have lost vigor allows new ones to replace them, thus renewing the whole tree every decade;
6 – To train the tree into proper shape and size.
Though we’re talking about fruit-bearing plants, it’s easy to apply the same principles to writing.
Confusing phrases and misused words are diseased and broken branches. Redundancies and repetitions are extra or crossed limbs. Side tangents that don’t move the story forward are crossed limbs and weak limb divisions. Unnecessary words need to be removed to let the sunshine of clarity shine in. With all these things removed, our writing will take on the shape and size that makes it beautiful and fruitful.
When undertaking the task, Mr. Hill recommends removing everything you dare. The next day, go out and do the same thing. Again. To the same tree. That should yield the desired result.
I do the same thing with my writing — I remove everything it seems possible to cut, let it rest awhile then go back and do it again. As he says, that seems to do the trick.
Unlike the orchardist, the writer can prune in any season. We needn’t worry about temperature or sap flow. So scribes, get out your clippers and saws, and start trimming!