I’ve been putting in more miles on the trail lately, getting ready for a June half-marathon I’m hoping to run. And because it’s spring, with its long days and rain and sunlight and warmth (sometimes), the plants at the edges of the trail are flourishing, sprouting, budding, flowering. The most noticeable (to me, anyway, because I’ve found it’s a good idea to watch where I’m stepping), with their yellow heads reflecting sunshine and contrasting with the green surrounding them, are dandelions.
Yeah. I recently did a little research on dandelions, with a question on my mind. Which was: the things are everywhere; are they native to the Pacific Northwest?
The answer: No way. They aren’t even native to the United States. At some point in the country’s history, some genius decided, because of the plants’ supposedly curative powers, that it would be a good idea to bring some over from Europe. So they got planted on the east coast and grew like weeds (literally) and spread like weeds (literally). Not all the way to the Pacific Northwest, though. That took another stroke of genius. A Seattle pioneer woman had heard about dandelion wine and figured that making some of that stuff would give her a source of income and up the fun factor of living in a place known for clouds and rain and dark and cold but definitely not fun. So she sent away for some dandelion stock from an east coast source, planted her plants, made wine, made a little money, and maybe even provided a little fun in the midst of all the gloom.
But she failed to control her dandelions, and now they’re everywhere, even on the grounds of the hundred or so Woodinville wineries. (Do those wineries know what kind of valuable resource they’re simply ignoring? Can you imagine a decade from now sitting at a table at an upscale restaurant and sipping a glass of award-winning ’15 Ste. Michelle Dandelion?)
Anyway, I don’t mind dandelions on the side of the trail. I might even like them in liquid form. But I don’t care for them in my yard. I prefer plants and trees that I actually plant. I prefer grass that’s green and unblemished by stubborn weeds, sunny-looking or not. So I was thinking about all this stuff the other day as I was running (anything to get my mind off the drudgery of putting one foot in front of the other for an hour or more), and I began considering dandelions in the context of writing.
On your first draft of a writing project, you’re pretty much putting everything in there–good stuff, not so good stuff, strange stuff, questionable stuff, stuff about your grandma or dog, roses and thorns. Weeds. Dandelions. But you’re WRITING. You’re getting it down there on paper or whatever you write on.
But then comes an equally important part of the process: revising. And if you’re smart enough and fortunate enough to be in a critique group: taking your piece of weedy turf to your writing friends for feedback.
If your group is doing its job, you’ll get some honest critique. Dogs are good, they’ll say, but grandmas? Not so much. Roses are fine, they’ll say, and thorns are valuable because you gotta have thorns for contrast, to inflict the pain, raise the conflict. But dandelions? You might’ve thought dandelions had a place in your story when you were writing that crappy first draft, but they don’t. Dig ’em out. Put them in a place from which there’s no return, somewhere you can’t even see them and be tempted to bring them back. Dandelions are distractions. They’re boring. They dilute the good stuff, suck energy out of the soil. Pull ’em and chop ’em and toss ’em. Wine makings or whatever, at their heart they’re weeds.
I love my critique group. They can see the dandelions even when I can’t, and what’s more important, they’re happy to point them out.