Word Whacking

I felt it was a major accomplishment when I learned to restring the weed whacker.  A co-worker give me a demonstration, and then when the string ran out, I had to figure it out myself — just in time because the weeds were out of control in our yard.

We don’t have a lawn. Most people living in the high desert don’t. It would be an absolute waste of water. So like many here we let the yard go wild except for the vegetable and flower gardens.

Most of our parcel is covered by sagebrush. Long ago, the mesa was a prairie grasslands but sage and other plants took over after the land was over-grazed by sheep.

Prairie grass and wildflowers grow on their own in the cleared area around our house, but not enough. Noxious weeds and asters — knee high when I returned from a vacation — have taken over. I don’t mind some asters but not the whole yard for goodness sake. 

So three weeks ago I began mowing them down with the trimmer. Some of the prickly weeds like Russian thistle — AKA tumbleweed — had to be yanked. I divided the open space around our house into sections and worked as far as three extension cords could reach. I did leave a nice, thick row of asters beside the sagebrush.

Of course, my mind was on other things while I worked, about family and my job, but mostly about the novel I’ve been working on.

Here’s the back story. I wrote the novel years before when I was hit by a car — I was walking across the street in a crosswalk. My previous agent thought I should start in the middle. The end result was two versions of the novel and no sale. But since early summer, I’ve been motivated to fuse the two — and make the story better. I believe I have.

I gave a draft to my agent before I left in late July for the East Coast. Upon my return, stuck in an airport for five hours, we talked about it over the phone. He liked the book a lot but wanted more dialogue, more active writing, and shorter chapters. My work was cut out for me.

I’ve decided editing is similar to weed-whacking: Cutting words and phrases, especially those threatening to take over.  It’s more than cutting, though. It’s finding a different way to write it. How many times did I use the word “bad”? 72. That’s probably too many in a 80,000-word novel. There’s certainly another way to say bad or not use it at all. 

Spencer shared this tool — a free word frequency counter. I plunk in whole passages, even a manuscript and it lists how many times I’ve used a word. There’s even a phrase counter. Here’s the website:  www.writewords.org.uk/word_count.asp

After that, I read the whole book aloud. That took a few days.

Sunday, I finished the manuscript, about a thousand unnecessary words thinner, and emailed it to my agent. And, I’m happy to report the weeds in our yard are also mowed to the ground. 


One thought on “Word Whacking

  1. I love the analogy of weeds and words. Some of them get too frisky and certainly take over/. Just used the words counter and —que horror—found plenty of Spanish tumbleweeds in my stories. Thanks for sharing it!

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