Making way for new – Prairie & Writing

We lost a grand old willow tree a year ago. Age and weather took their toll, and it finally had to be removed. Though losing the willow with all the associated memories was sad, the newly opened space made room to expand our prairie. As I’ve worked on this new project, I’ve seen many parallels to my writing life.

The willow made way for the blank slate of a new prairie patch.

The willow made way for the blank slate of a new prairie patch.

The idea of expanding the prairie has been simmering for some time. Yet, establishing the new area has not been as smooth as I’d hoped. Step one required killing off the grass. The herbicide we’d been using with good effect in other applications all of a sudden didn’t work. Ultimately, we invested in Roundup. One application and the grass was gone – along with all the prairie plant seedlings that sprouted in the spring.

Now that the grass is gone and new growth is coming on, I’m reminded of things I learned with my first prairie planting – and now must re-learn – with this new space.

  • There are plenty of seeds waiting for their chance. Even though I killed off all the desirable plants that emerged in the spring, more emerged mid-summer. Some may even bloom this fall, though they’ll have to survive the deer who relish these tender shoots.
  • Weed seeds are also waiting for their chance. Rounds two, three, and four of dandelions, pokeweed, and thistles keep popping up.
  • There’s always something new to learn in a prairie. At this point, the difference between invasive and non-invasive plants. An invasive species pushes out and replaces a native plant. A non-invasive plant may move in but won’t take over.
Mullien appear invasive at the moment, but they'll move on.

Mullien appear invasive at the moment, but they’ll move on.

Mullein, is one non-invasive plant. The new prairie is awash in these wooly-leaved plants. Even though they are plentiful now, I am not concerned that mullein will crowd the prairie next year for two reasons. (1) This season’s plants will not have time to seed before winter, and (2) Even though there were a dozen or more mullein plants in the old prairie last year, only one returned this year. Invasive plants like Queen Anne’s Lace will crowd out all else if you let it. Pretty though that flower is, I pull these out as soon as I see them.

Prairie & Writing Parallels

I’m at a point in my writing life where I’m looking ahead to what’s next. Looking at the prairie and my writing, I can make these observations:

  • Like the prairie seeds, there are plenty of new ideas waiting to sprout. In only a few minutes this week, I recorded half a dozen ideas for writing projects ranging from memoir to novels to children’s books.
  • As I work through editing my work in progress, I find weed seeds in the form of crutch words: “that,” “just,” “seem,” “very.” It takes diligent maintenance to root these out and keep them from marring an otherwise well written story.
  • In the prairie and in writing, I’m always learning something new. If I took up the children’s book idea, for instance, I’d be learning an entirely new genre.
  • Ideas for writing projects pop up and move on as do plants like mullein. In this case, however, I’m looking for that invasive idea – the one that will not let go of my imagination – the one that stimulates my writing passion. Unlike invasive weeds in the prairie, the writing idea with staying power is one I’ll nurture and grow.
    Prairie beauty - coming in two to three years.

    Prairie beauty – coming in two to three years.

Both prairie and writing take time and hard work. Both may yield beautiful results if I’m wise in choosing and have the patience to nurture.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about – in the prairie and with my writing life. What’s going on in your creative life? And how does nature inspire you?

Are you using some words too often?

Software helps find repetition.

Kayla Curry shared software to help writers find what I’ve called “crutch” words and what Sharla Rae calls “echo” words. Here’s the start and link to her post.

Kayla Curry

Kayla Curry

How to tell if you are using one word too much.

My upcoming novel, Where the Carnies Are is in the editing stage right now and I just ran it through a little test that helps me determine what words I used the most when I wrote it. I’m going to tell you exactly how to do that (for free!) in just a minute.

First, let’s talk about WHY it is important to do this to your manuscripts.  When writing, you will often use the words you are most comfortable with. That isn’t a huge problem, but it might make you sound repetitive and boring. Let me give you an example….

Read more …

What are your crutch words?


What words do you lean on?

I’m deep into editing my novel this month. Searching for the best words to create people and places readers will see and remember. Eliminating cliches. Working for copy that is fresh and tight. In the process, I discovered I have two crutch words – words I use without realizing it. Words I lean on, I fear, because they’re so easy.

Look at these sentences from my manuscript. Can you guess the words I mean?

  • Sometimes Liddie just wanted to shout, “Get on with it!”
  • She imagined that women who lived in cities did not spend their days hoeing weeds, gathering eggs or milking cows.
  • I just know if I stay on the farm, Mama and Papa will insist I marry a farmer.
  • Papa said that when Fred left like that, it just proved his point.
  • I really thought after Illinois got the ball rolling with their vote last year that we’d see more progress in Iowa.
  • Thank heaven and the suffrage movement for the fact that girls have choices these days.
  • It was just the heat.
  • Mrs. Carter hopes that Mr. Roosevelt’s enthusiasm will convince others.
  • Neither reacted and she guessed that she was just over sensitive.
  • She watched from just inside the doorway.
  • Amelia’s voice sounded so oddly hopeful that Liddie looked up.
  • I was just joshing. Can’t she take a joke?
  • Kate’s gaze told Liddie just how naive her comment had been.

Readers at the workshop I attended last month pointed out the “that” problem. “That” is technically accurate as I’ve used it but it’s unnecessary. I began to look more closely for other such words. It turns out “Just” is a word I use so frequently in my own conversation that I just don’t realize when it creeps into my writing.

In the 160 words above, there are 15 unnecessary uses of “Just” and “That.” Nearly 10% of the words. Eliminating all 15 results in copy that is crisper, more precise, and stronger.

Of course, there are legitimate uses of just and that, so it’s not as easy as just eliminating them all.  But yesterday, I cut nearly 100 words by searching out these two crutch words. My writing is stronger as a result.

The “Find” function in Word Edit is terrific for locating words I’m so used to that I don’t even see them.

If your manuscript is light on words, these words could be useful padding. Having seen the impact of eliminating them from my own manuscript, however; I’d argue that using them results in weaker copy. My challenge is quite the opposite. I’m looking for 16,000 words to cut.

Have you found crutch words in your writing? Would you care to share what they are? I still have 15,000 words to go.

photo credit: chez_sugi via photopin cc