Editing and gardening, are they really a like?


Tina Dubinsky

It has been a little over a month since I began the process of editing my novel. I finished writing the draft in June. It seemed like a good time to take short break before starting the editing process.

The day I typed the last word of my first draft, my daughter Aviva began school holidays. There were no surprises in this timing. It was all part of the plan. We both agreed to spend a large part of her holiday time, outside gardening. With her new garden tools – a present received at Christmas, we stepped into the backyard and contemplated where to start.

My backyard reminded me of the forest in Sleeping Beauty. You know, the one that grows unattended for a hundred years. While there was no sleeping princess in the middle of our yard, we did find a few interesting things that had disappeared, like a Dora doll, a toddler pool, a swing and a large number of different sized balls.

For the first time since we bought our house, I was actually thankful our lot was in the boutique range.

As I began hacking and slashing away at the overgrowth, I could not fully turn my thoughts away from my novel. I began to find many comparisons between gardening and editing.

Burying the manuscript
Editing and gardening at the same time seems dangerous. I may not be able to resist the urge to bury my manuscript.


Hacking and slashing

Some gardeners may prefer to call this slash and burn. It is what happens when you look at your garden and you realize it is all wrong. Rather than a simple prune and tidy your garden needs to be revamped and that gnarly, spreading tree that takes up the whole yard– has to go.

As a writer, I can sympathize with other writers who have the urge to throw their manuscript on a fire. There are parts of my novel where I want to light a match beneath the page and watch it slowly incinerate.

Though I am a little concerned of my initial self-assessment that (many) parts of my story are in dire need of hacking and slashing, I am not giving up just yet. It is after all the first draft.

The editing stage is about recognizing the parts of your writing that need to be completely removed and in many cases, rewritten. This includes scenes and sometimes whole chapters and also lateral concepts like characters or places.


Hack and slash of my back yard - pile number one
The start of my ‘hack and slash’ on the backyard. It helped to prepare me for the editing of my manuscript. There is a swing somewhere amongst that.


Pruning is similar to hacking and slashing but on a less dramatic scale.

It is about cutting back those words, sentences, or paragraphs that are over grown while trimming them down into digestible word-scapes. Perhaps the language is verbose, the adjectives a little bit too flowery.

Boring repetition is another reason a writer might want to prune away words. And then, there are detailed physical descriptions of characters and places that leave the reader with no room to exercise their own imagination.

Like hacking and slashing, pruning is also about rejuvenation.

There are elements of my story, subplots and supporting characters that I want to bring to the reader’s attention. Sometimes too many words can get in the way of drawing these out, and while subtlety might be required often what is not said or left for later, can lure a reader deeper into a story.

Cartoon - Girl watering garden
Having no variety in a garden can be just as boring in book. It might seem interesting to begin with but without depth, there is nothing to keep a reader’s attention.



If only I could use a weed checker on the garden. It would probably do a much faster job at finding and removing the weeds then my not-so-green thumbs.

Weeding for me is similar to finding misspelt words, typos and poor grammar. There are obvious candidates for instant removal.

Then there are words that a spell check may not pick up on, obnoxious words. Likewise there are weeds that look like beautiful flowers, but left unattended can do a lot of damage to a garden, draining it of goodness.

It is best to have as few obnoxious words and weeds as possible. Weeding needs to be done often, quickly and promptly.



Gardening is not just about annihilating plants, but re-growing. A writer also needs to rewrite sentences, paragraphs and whole sections of their book.

A story is designed just like a garden. Each word needs to be considered. It needs to have a setting in which it will thrive, and it needs to be placed in the right position.

Words need to collectively draw emotion from the scene. Emotion is often linked to color and while the print of many books is black and white, we often overlook the color contained in the utterance of each word.

Luckily for writers, we have the ability to dig up and replant words at will during the editing phase. My garden is not so fortunate.

Grow a book
Of course books don’t grow on trees. Using them as cuttings does not seem to work either.



Every garden, even those with cacti need water. Some gardens need a lot more nourishment than others, like blood and bone or lime.

Even if a writer is not laying the foundations for further growth of their story in a sequel, they still need to spark the imagination of the reader.

There is nothing worse than picking up a book that doesn’t draw you into it. For me a good book is one that I find difficult to let go of, even after I have finished reading it.

This is where the nurturing of a good story comes into play. It slowly builds the tension between characters. It creates gnawing mysteries, reveals character and plot development and provides curiosities that will keep pages turning.


Editing is a careful cultivation of words

Pace, mood, color, vibrancy – it all comes from the careful cultivation of words. Thankfully I am much more passionate about writing then I am of gardening.

Don’t get me wrong, I find gardening enjoyable especially if my family is outside with me. There is something to be said for the warmth of the Sun, the laughter of a child and the fresh smell of newly turned earth that begs the attention of a seedling.


Tabitha joins us in the garden
Gardening is much more pleasurable when the whole family joins in, even the cat. Editing is less of a family thing.

Comments, thoughts?