Advice for Writers: The Parable of the Sorry Pear Tree

This could also be called “Pruning and Revision,”  except that I have written about pruning and revision. This post has a different pruning story, though, and a different focus.  Anyhow, as I was saying…

When we lived in Fairfax, we had a pear tree that stood by the sidewalk. It wasn’t much of a tree: it was about fifteen feet tall and its small tough-skinned fruit was as hard as a brick. My mother decided that it needed pruning so my dad got up on a ladder with his pruning saw and went to town. Maybe it’s more accurate to say he went to several towns. By the time he finished, the poor sorry pear tree looked like a small telephone pole with a few leaves hanging on for dear life at the top.

My mother was less than pleased by my dad’s work with the saw. In fact, she was livid, saying that he had probably killed the tree and that he might as well go ahead and chop it down.

The idea of pruning is to allow the plant to concentrate its resources and energy into a smaller volume, producing greater growth and, int he case of fruit trees, better fruit. There’s an analogue in writing: more concise writing is more energetic and more to the point. It doesn’t waste anyone’s time with excess verbiage. It doesn’t annoy the reader by skipping around the point. Flabby writing annoys the fool out of me. I can’t tell you.

But I can tell you that the tree came bustling back the next spring, with an honest thriving bushy growth of limbs and leaves and, miracle of all miracles, huge pears that were sweet and delicious.

I learned an important lesson from this and it is if your wife wants you to prune your pear tree, be sure she watches so you don’t hack too much off. Oh, and pruning, revision and concision are good practices.

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