Starting again from scratch

One of the flower beds at the front of our house is looking bleak. After fifteen years of neglect, several cypress shrubs were overgrown, and pruning worsened their appearance. Like the heather I muttered about last month, they no longer turned an attractive face to the passing public. (Don’t take me literally. I know they couldn’t be seen from the street, but I need a bit of literary license to bolster my rationale!)

Each summer I planted different annuals around them to pretty up the space. A few weeks ago I decided it was no longer helping. So, last week DH and I made the big decision to dig everything out (including the three offending heathers), and we’re starting from scratch.

Fifteen years of weeding, watering and pruning. All that work. For nothing. Well, I suppose not entirely for nothing since the bed looked reasonably nice for ten of those years. The problem is, cypress really aren’t the right plants for that location, but I didn’t realize it fifteen years ago. The only plants we’ve left behind are two helleborus orientalis (lenten roses), which have managed to survive surprisingly well despite being hemmed in by the cypress.

I had hopes for a permanently lush, satisfying-to-behold garden bed, but am now resigned to all the work it’s going to take to begin again. More plant research. Money spent at the nursery. Some back-aching soil amending and digging.

Sometimes we have to do the same thing with a novel. We might spend a year (or several) writing it, fiddling with it, editing and revising, but it never quite meets our expectations. There comes a point when we accept it has no future. If we like the premise, the only option may be to toss out all the old words and start from scratch with new ones. Abandoning all the original work is a tough decision, but what’s the alternative?

Pardon me while I go hunt up my pen… er, I mean my shovel.


Have you ever had to abandon your darlings and start over again? Did the new writing take less or more time than the original? Was it easier or harder?

~  ~  ~

7 thoughts on “Starting again from scratch

  1. Darlene says:

    Good luck with your new flower bed and your writing! I too hate to get rid of plants (they are living things) but sometimes it is necessary and I’m always pleased later with the results. The same goes for getting rid of words, sentences and sometimes pages!

  2. christicorbett says:

    This post is such a great analogy to writing. Nicely done!

    Christi Corbett

    PS. I’m spending the entire day tomorrow (and making the rest of the family help too) getting our front and back yards into shape. My son, when informed of said plans, thought for a moment, then said, “Why do we have to do the backyard? People can only see the front one?”

  3. Shari Green says:

    An excellent analogy! I think for a story to really become what it’s meant to be, and to really be told in the best possible way, it’s sometimes necessary for us to abandon old words and old ideas of what a story wants to be — painful, but necessary! (And yes, been there, done that, LOL.) Even so, I don’t think the abandoned words are a waste. They may have given us the raw material that will become our story in future drafts, and they’ve likely taught us a bit more about writing and maybe even about ourselves.

  4. Jenn Hubbard says:

    Have you ever had to abandon your darlings and start over again?
    Oooohh, yes.

    Did the new writing take less or more time than the original?
    Less time, thank goodness.

    Was it easier or harder?
    Harder psychologically, but easier in that I could borrow from the abandoned draft.

    With plants, it’s best to look at a spot and pick a plant that fits there (e.g., a sun-loving, drought-tolerant plant in a sunny dry spot; a short plant in that space beneath the electrical wires; an acid-loving plant near the pines), rather than to put in the plant we think we want and then struggle to change the environment to keep that plant going. As the owner of a small plot of land, I’m always happiest in the long run when I do the former rather than the latter. And I suppose the analogy to writing isn’t far away: to write the books that are in us rather than striving to sound like someone else.

  5. joylene says:

    I’ve had to abandoned a project a few times. Strangely, it never gets easy. I planted my rhododendron in the wrong place the first, so 2 summers later, we moved it to a shady post this side of the green house. It took another 3 years to realize I hadn’t given it enough room. And, snow falls off the greenhouse to land on top of it. After the first winter we placed a sheet of plywood over it for protection. Yes, like you I’ve tried a few things. I need to move the bush because nothing is working. Darn.

    I have to get back to work, so I’ll spare you the story on how I had to rework 2 full mss, and even now I’m not sure I’ve found the right solution. “Keeping pluggin” is my motto.

  6. Carol says:

    Thanks to all of you for sharing your stories of relocations and rewriting. As Jenn suggests, it would be nice to get it right the first time. When it comes to gardening I must be more of a ‘pantser’ than a ‘plotter’! I’m not comforted by Joylene’s experience that one relocation sometimes needs to be followed by another, but I take consolation in Shari’s words, that there is something to be learned in the process of re-doing.

  7. Laura Best says:

    I have a few darlings that have been abandoned although I have noticed that sometimes a particular character may bear a striking resemblance to another character that was lost along the way. I don’t do it intentionally, but the end product is sometimes difficult to deny. 🙂

    We’ve been trying to take more interest in our flowerbeds, but to be honest it’s a lot of work and I don’t have much of a flare for it.

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