Tuesday, March 13, 2012


My husband and I have a small cherry and apple orchard down in the valley that we're managing. The other day I learned how to prune. I don't think I did a very good job. It was so hard!

There were so many branches. Which ones to cut? Which would create the best shaped tree that will ultimately bring forth the fruit in the best way possible? "Try to imagine the sun coming in and where it will hit when the leaves have all come in on the tree," my husband told me. But it was hard to see in my mind what the end result would be. There are no leaves, no fruit. Just bare branches. A lot of them.

So I trimmed. Here and there. I stood back and looked, trimmed some more. Just a little at a time. I didn't really have a plan. I think there is a lot more that needs to get cut back on the poor tree that I was pruning.

All that cutting made me realize how much easier it is for me to cut pieces out of my manuscripts than it is for me to cut live pieces from a tree. That seems weird because cutting a manuscript can be really hard. I think that perhaps cutting gets easier the longer you write. At least it has for me. I know when I write that not everything is going to work. And I never seem to have a fully formed plan when I sit down to write. I know that I just have to get it down on paper first. I do have some stories that carry over into years, but they have just been sitting, not growing. Maybe that's why they are easier to cut than a tree. I don't know. But I do know the pruning will make the trees better. They'll produce higher quality fruit. Of course, the cutting needs to be done correctly. So I'm going to have to practice.

One thing I have learned with my writing is that sometimes you can cut practically the entire story and take off in a completely new and unexpected direction and the story comes out even better than it was before. You can rethink your characters, change up your storyline, and by golly, take out those weak lines. You just might be surprised what you come up with. You'll never know until you make that cut! And, of course, you can keep a back up of the previous version in case the cutting doesn't work. I wish I could do that with trees!

Do you do a lot of cutting on your manuscripts? Do you find it hard? Do you have any tree pruning tips? Let me know!


  1. I don't have any tree pruning tips - I'll leave the yard work to my husband. As for writing, I'm pretty good at cutting. I agree, that cutting almost always makes for a stronger story. I find it much more difficult to add words than to take them away!

  2. I'm a good word cutter; the longer the manuscript sits before I start to edit, the more merciless I am with cutting. So there's my tip - let it sit for weeks so you can look at it objectively to see where it needs trimming!

  3. I love your analogy! I dream of fruit trees. We are moving soon and I hope we can plant some and learn all about pruning (in my own manuscripts as well).

  4. I don't have an tips for pruning trees--all I know is that after, the tree is stronger and can devote more energy to making fruit. Seems cruel to cut but...
    I actually have grown to love cutting back my stories--it gives me energy! Lighter! Stronger! Sometimes it's hard to know exactly what can go but that's how it is for me.

  5. My gosh, Heather, what business are the two of you NOT in? :)

  6. I find it easier to prune after I've put a manuscript away for a while. Then I'm more likely to see what's extraneous.

  7. Like Kirsten, the longer the MS has been sitting, the easier to cut those lovely words of mine. Ha! It's hard, but when I realize it is going to better my story, I'm all for it! :-)

    Love the analogy. I need to get some outside pruning done. I'll think of you when I'm out there. (You and my MS) *waving*

  8. Ha Corey! You totally made me laugh.

    I have to agree with the consensus here--letting a manuscript sit definitely makes it easier to see what needs to be cut. It's amazing how much stepping away from a story for a while helps you see the stuff that can go. Reading the manuscript out loud helps too!

  9. You're right about cutting the manuscript and giving it entirely a new shape. Almost all my manuscript face this fate and it's nice to see your manuscript changing shapes and growing up. but i don't have any idea about pruning trees or plants. I know it's a difficult skill.