By Kris Neri
You would not believe how much greenery grows in the Arizona high desert, especially in the spring and early summer. Well, it surprised me anyway. We get virtually no rain, have low humidity and only limited irrigation. Still, weeds flourish.
People here do everything possible to impede their growth. They pull them, of course, and break up their roots with a variety of tools. With grim determination and ruthless efficiency, some people also shoot gallons of weed killer at them. That usually knocks out an individual sprig, but it doesn’t stop a clone from popping up right beside it. But then, there’s always more weed killer. We even burn them with propane-fueled poles that shoot fire. Incredibly, weeds that are completely burned one day will sprout again within days.
Typically in Arizona, when people landscape a yard, they spread plastic tarps on the ground and pile gravel on top of them to choke off any impulse to fulfill their destiny of reaching the sunlight, that the weeds might experience. Plastic, everyone will tell you, isn’t biodegradable. Maybe not, but it does weaken over time, and not even much time. When it does, those pesky, wild, opportunistic plants pierce right through it.
Of course, “weeds” is a pejorative term for greenery we didn’t decide to plant. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ugly. In my yard, what I refer to by that term might cover colorful wildflowers or sturdy desert plants that have grown in this space for centuries. That’s the key. Mostly, they’re plants that want to grow in a particular spot, instead of the finicky non-native varieties that, when I decide to use them, usually don’t survive.
By now you’re probably saying, “Why the #@$# should I care what grows in her yard?” But stay with me — I’m getting to a writing connection.
Not words, certainly. Words and images fill our minds all day long. All night, too, apparently, though we’re usually less aware of them then. Words fill our minds as relentlessly as weeds grow in the Upper Sonoran Desert, and most other places. It’s actually impossible to stop the verbal flow. If you’ve ever tried meditating, you know how hard it is to clear your mind for long.
Sure, the string of words passing through your mind aren’t necessarily the right ones for your WIP. They don’t seem to describe your story the way you see it progressing. But if you haven’t written it yet — or haven’t written it all — how can you say for sure that the proliferation of weedy words in your mind are wrong?
Maybe, by choking off the flow of words and imagery we considered wrong for our books, we block all useful thought.
Successful gardeners say, for a really successful yard, we should simply plant, in particular spots, the greenery that wants to grow there. Those plants will flourish and will make you look good as a gardener, rather than try to force an alliance between plant and location and soil that isn’t meant to be. Maybe that’s good advice for successful wordsmithing, too.
No, I’m not suggesting that you write gibberish simply because those are the words flowing through your mind at any moment, merely that you not be too quick to shut down that flow, or judge where it might lead your story. In first drafts especially, we need to be open to surprises. If you’re too quick to label whatever comes to you as the verbal equivalent of weeds, if you’re squirting too much verbal weed killer, you might render your mental soil too barren to grow anything. Give the weeds a chance. They might surprise you.
That’s what my yard has taught me. Has your yard taught you anything?