Getting Your Hands Dirty

Julie Artz
May 7 · 3 min read

At this time of year, there’s always a bit of garden dirt underneath my nails (and likely in my hair, on my jeans, maybe even on my face). That’s usually because I’m spending a lot of time doing this:

Not bad for an early May haul from the garden!

And doing that leaves me looking like this:

Me and my dirty fingernails

But you know me, this article, just like my last post, Late Season Blooms, isn’t really about gardening. It’s about writing. Or, more specifically, about revising. About digging in and getting your hands dirty in your creative life the same way you might in the spring garden.

Almost every writer I’ve ever met can write a beautiful sentence. They can create a metaphor (like getting your hands dirty), craft an image of a radiant sunset behind majestic cedars or the smell of fresh-turned earth on a warm spring day. A smaller number of those writers can not only write a whole manuscript, but revise it to make it something that works not just at the sentence level, but as a whole.

To do that, you’ve go to revise. Shannon Hale describes her writing process this way, “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” The building of the castles? That happens in revision.

I don’t want to mix too many of these metaphors, so I’ll adapt Shannon’s idea to the garden. Writing may be putting the shovel, and even the seeds, into the soil, but the watering, fertilizing, weeding, and pruning are all a part of revision.

I’ve been in the revision cave for what feels like forever (in truth, it has been almost ten months) trying to craft some fairly intricate flower beds and the Siren song of a new story idea calls to me each time I lose focus. Because when the flower bed contains more weeds than flowers, it feels a whole lot easier to work somewhere else in the yard than it does to go through the pain and boredom of pulling out those weeds.

But weed you must. And prune. And fertilize. And drag the hose. Because that is what it takes to make a beautiful garden as surely as it takes revision to make a beautiful book.

So tomorrow, I will sit back down at my desk, open my story, and work through this revision. Even though the sun is shining and there’s a flower bed out there just begging for me to come out to play. I’ve got a different kind of digging in to do. And it’s going to make something just as beautiful as my flower beds.

My tulips were stunning this year, which made up for all the work I did last fall digging holes for bulbs, fertilizing, and, yes, weeding.

Additional Resources

Ready to dig in? Check out these resources for revision inspiration:

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Julie Artz

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After nearly two decades of writing & editing corporate & non-profit materials, I’ve turned toward the creative realm as a freelance editor and book coach.

No Blank Pages

At Author Accelerator, our dedicated team of book coaches provides exactly what you need to succeed in your writing life - no matter where you are in the journey.