Yesterday, with the afternoon temperature mild and spring-like, I finally got around to pulling dead morning glory vines off my backyard rose bushes. Underneath the brown, ugly vines–brittle and crumbling to the touch–the roses that have survived the onslaughts of harsh winter temperatures, drought, and my terriers digging holes beneath their roots are putting forth delicate little buds.
There’s still a lot of vine- and weed-pulling ahead of me if I want my roses to achieve beauty this spring. Some of these roses are fine old varieties known to the Victorians–or the Tudors. They bloom only once a year unlike the Knockout roses stocked by Lowe’s and Home Depot.
One month out of twelve, and yet what a divine fragrance, what glorious petals and colors.
By contrast, the Knockout roses bloom and bloom and bloom, yet they have no fragrance.
What would William Shakespeare think of a rose by any other name that smells not at all?
Over the weekend, I attended an antiques show and spent several enjoyable hours wandering around booth after booth of eye candy–the most glorious Art Nouveau lamps, Victorian glassware, fine porcelain, American Brilliant cut glass, silver, etc.
At one booth, I stopped and admired a pair of large silver candelabra–so big and ornate that they come apart in sections for polishing.
Another booth featured crystal stemware that was tissue thin, and yet it was intricately cut and etched by a master hand.
I know people who can’t be bothered to admire such beautiful things, much less own them. “Can’t be put in the dishwasher.” As though that has become the measure line of our lives or culture.
Well, I don’t mind tissue-thin crystal that has to be hand washed. I do own glasses that I toss in the dishwasher every day, but I haven’t surrendered the exquisite beauty of fine crystal either. I do own a few Knockout roses, but I haven’t surrendered Souvenir de la Malmaison. And I don’t mind polishing silver on a November evening while I watch MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET for the countless time.
Is my silver going to tarnish again in a few days? Yes. (If it’s left exposed to air and not used.)
Don’t writing skills, if unused, grow rusty in about two weeks? Yes. (If I sit around on past laurels and don’t keep myself working on prose and plotting every day.)
Life isn’t disposable. It isn’t always about convenience or ease. Worthwhile things take effort, time, and attention, whether we’re tending a rose garden or writing a novel.
How I wish I could just snap my fingers and will a book into existence. Alas, it doesn’t work that way.
It takes hard work, daily effort, concentration, and the sacrifice of time. It takes dedication to maintaining a high standard of craft, of being willing to work through the manuscript one more time just to change active verbs for passive ones.
It takes constant use of good punctuation and seeking the best words instead of the most convenient ones to prevent the rust of ambiguity.
It takes steady polishing of concept, plot, characterization, narrative, and scene structure to rid a manuscript of tarnished plot holes, contrivance, and poor motivation.
And it takes vigilance in staying focused, in believing in the plot and characters so that the weeds of doubt and distraction can’t sprout up and force me to abandon my story before it’s finished.
A lot of trouble? Yes. But how the finished result will shine for readers.