Editing and Structure – balancing the flow

‘A paragraph is supposed to fence off wandering thoughts.’

p. 34, Eucalyptus, Murray Bail, 1998.

So ends chapter three, and an interesting analogy between paddocks and paragraphs. This came to mind while I removed more lawn.

Gardening is making. I find it an important part of my creative process. It gives me time to let things sort and settle, and time to sit and reflect afterwards. My front yard is a work in progress – just like editing my novel.

Just on five years ago, I moved into this house with its very tired front yard.

I decided to lose the lawn (and trees) and create a native cottage garden. It has been a work in progress, too, though I’m narrowing down to the last 10 square metres. Being in a windy spot, with winter frosts, I’ve had some losses and some fantastic wins – the second flowering gum is a veteran centrepiece of three years.

Similar to my writing, there is an overall structure bound by the physical space. The plan is a mix of loose and tight due to constraints of power lines, for example, and plant placement. The work may leap ahead in bounds when the weather (and my finances) permit, and gently stagnate on cold rainy days. There is incidental work, such as weeding, when I head to the letterbox and can’t walk past that kikuyu shoot bursting through the grevillea ground cover.

But when I started, I had no idea how long it would actually take. I just started. I would buy some plants, decide on their placement (working from kerbside in) and mark out a space. After planting came the mulch infill for that space. Sometimes there were a few days between the infill. Sometimes I had the energy and determination to work for five hours a day – particularly when I created the curved path of leftover pavers.

During this year of writing, I have found myself gardening words and paragraphs. There is an overall plan of narrative and characters, and there have been wins and losses in the details. There have been days of earnest writing and times of thoughtful neglect. Choosing pieces to workshop online meant extracting a scene or space that sometimes didn’t make it back into the draft. There have been changing routines: write first thing, read first thing, exercise first thing. Yet time and again, the writing and words call me back.

*Read my earlier blogpost, with a more detailed quote from Eucalyptus and Bail’s thoughts on paragraphs and paddocks.

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