seedlilngs

Soil, Paper, and Patience

I’ve decided that writing and gardening have a lot in common, which is probably not a revelation for any other writers and gardeners at work in both soil and paper. Each could be a metaphor for the other. Turning the earth is a little like reading to fill one’s imagination or maybe freewriting to get the ideas flowing. Planting seeds and starts is a little like writing a first draft. Weeding and moving plants to more suitable locations are pretty much the same as editing, but what’s missing is the harvest.

Gardening, while pleasurable in itself, is usually a means to an end, while writing is often an end it itself, and finishing a project’s first draft feels like putting the garden to bed without putting any food by. I feel empty handed and a little hollow inside, and I cannot go to the pantry or freezer to see evidence of the season’s success. As with any art, success is mostly in the doing, less so the result, and it can take years to reach what one might call a harvest, and “harvest” means different things to different people when it comes to writing books.

For some, the harvest exists in a complete first draft or a polished final draft, but I think most writers would say the harvest equates to publication, evidence that a writer’s work has come to something more than the satisfaction of having done it. The difference is this: I doubt I’d garden if my flowers never bloomed, if I never picked tomatoes, so maybe writing without publishing isn’t like tending plants that never grow, but eating tomatoes green rather than red and ripe and sauced. Both are good, just different. My evidence? I don’t publish often, but I’m always writing. A lack of “sauce,” such as a bookshelf lined with publications, doesn’t stop me. I just keep doing it.

This week, I feel a little lost. I finished the first draft of a new novel over the weekend, and now I need to set it aside. The pause is good for rest and reflection, so I just have to leave it alone for awhile, but that’s hard to do when it exists in my head. How do I cordon of a section of my mind, tell myself not to grab a shovel or a trowel, forbid further work until the manuscript matures? It’s hard, but I know it’s crucial. Any work of art doesn’t just take time, it needs time.

One strategy is to print it off and physically set it aside, and maybe this is like covering my beds with compost and straw. I know it’s resting. I can see it. I can even imagine an accumulation of snow. I look at my manuscript sitting on the edge of my desk the same way I look at my garden in winter, wondering, when the snow melts, what I’ll discover when I return.

Today is March 1st. Maybe in a couple weeks, I’ll rake back the mulch to see what I have. The actual garden will have to wait till April.

  1. This is quite a good comparison! To make the time scale fit, there are other (non-tomato) plants that could fit the metaphor pretty directly: Fruit trees! They take a while to grow. For the first few years (depending on the type of fruit and the growing conditions), they won’t produce fruit. After they’ve matured, they’ll produce fruit pretty regularly (depending on season). I think this is like book-writing; a long period where all the groundwork is being laid (where the tree grows… and the drafts are being written), which is also a time for efforts to potentially go wrong. Once the tree is grown and the book is finalized, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for a long time going forward (fruit from the tree, royalties from the book) without the amount of attention required at the beginning. Something could always go wrong at this point to destroy the tree or halt the circulation of your books – but it’s considerably more difficult for your efforts to fail now that everything is ‘established’.
    I hope you go on writing and gardening!

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    1. I really like that comparison, and I think you’re right. The process of writing a novel is so long because a lot of it entails years of learning to do it before a single book is even published. That’s fruit-tree scale, for sure. I will definitely continue doing both. At this point, I’m pretty much made of dirt and paper. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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