Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Gardening/Writing Connection

I’ve always contended that a writer is always writing, even when she's not sitting before the computer. Certain stages of the writing process can’t happen in front of the computer...for
me, anyway. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a stickler for discipline and I show up at the desk for my allotted time every weekday, but a lot of my writing happens at other times, too.

A lot of my writing happens in my garden.

Deciding to land in a home base and have a garden may be the best thing I’ve done to boost my writing life in a long time. Here’s the thing: when you’re discovering the story in a first draft, or stuck in a scene of a work in progress, or contemplating the next move for a tricky character, it’s nearly impossible to just sit at the desk and think, “Okay, what happens next?” I mean, of course, you CAN sit there, but it’s usually very frustrating. For me, those ideas flow when I’m doing something else, especially something mindless with my hands—mowing the grass, driving a long distance, washing dishes...and gardening. It's as if I get out of my own way, and the idea sneaks up on me while I'm distracted.

Gardening is perfect for my writing. Gardening is creative in its own right and therefore highly satisfying, but it also doesn’t take a huge amount of concentration. Digging in the dirt, weeding, deadheading, picking vegetables, and watering—oh, especially watering, which is such a meditative, Zen-like practice to start with—my mind is free to wander and explore all kinds of plot possibilities.

When I first bought this house, I fretted over how much time I spent in the garden, feeling guilty that I should be in my new writing office instead, until it dawned on me how much the time in the dirt fed the time at the desk.

For me, too—not to stretch the metaphor too thin—novel writing takes the same kind of tending and patience as gardening does. It takes a vision and some faith. It takes watering and fertilizing, even before you’re certain anything is going to take root. It takes time before anything fruitful begins to emerge or flower. Weeding, pruning, and cutting back spent growth is a lot like editing—attention to small detail that has such a cumulative effect on the overall beauty.

Now, instead of feeling guilty that I’m “cheating on” the novel, I’ve embraced some daily puttering in the garden as part of my writing routine.

My garden helps me grow books.

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