I have a plot at a community garden (though the garden journal-ing hasn’t been going too well lately), and it makes me contemplative. Gardening has been used as an allegory for so many things–not that it’s surprising, with growing our own food being so important through most of civilization. So here’s my allegory: Gardening as the publishing process.
- Gardens start with relatively few raw materials: you’ve got good dirt, a spot with sun, some seeds and some water. Hopefully you’ve got a trowel.
- Similarly, it takes relatively little in “things” to start writing. You need a computer or just a paper and pen. Maybe a good “writing chair,” if you’re lucky.
- The beginning of a garden is full of mystery. You stick some seeds in the ground and water them, but nothing happens. You just hope that they’ll grow. And for days–if not weeks–nothing seems to be happening. You just have to keep showing up, watering and checking for weeds, and hope that the seeds you planted weren’t duds. I found this incredibly frustrating. What were they doing down there?! Other people started their plots with starter-plants bought from the garden center, but sunflowers have to come from seed. And it looked, for at least 2 and a half weeks, like nothing was going to come from it.
- We don’t know the outcomes when we write. First, we face that terror of the blank page. Then, even if we manage to fill it, we don’t know if it’s any good, or if we’ll get anything out of it. It’s all a big gamble at first, then a lot of waiting. Being a writer of any kind takes simultaneous constant work and patience.
- Without warning, though, things just start to grow. The little heads of my sunflowers were just the tiniest little hints of green one day, and by the end of the week they were over two feet tall. By the time they were fully grown, they were taller than me and had flowers the size of saucers (see photo above!). But not everything in my garden grew evenly, and other people had a lot more produce than I did. All season, I’ve produced a total of three tomatoes! Little ones!
- Comparing yourself to others is natural, but it doesn’t always help. Sure, I only have three tomatoes, but I had killer sunflowers that no one else could boast. The same is with my writing; I’m strong in some areas where others may be weak. Even though we’re doing the same things, we have different strengths.
- Things outside of your control can have a big effect on your outcomes. In the garden, that was a sudden and devastating infestation of squash bugs. No matter what we did to squash them or spray them or make our plots seem unappealing, they proliferated. Everyone in the garden was forced to pull out every squash plant. I even had to sacrifice my cucumber plant–the squash bugs didn’t know they weren’t supposed to like eating that, too.
- You can do literally everything right and still not have success. I have a zombie book I think has great potential, but zombies are considered passe now; the trend-mobile has already moved on. Does that mean my book isn’t good or that I’m a bad writer? No, it just means there’s something else going on. (Besides, it doesn’t mean I have to tear it up forever. I’ve held on to it, and now maybe it’s time to publish after all.)
- Gardening takes a lot of work that doesn’t look like work. I’ve been by every day this week: 100+ degree days are not good for growing vegetables, and it’s all I can do to keep my plot watered. But it doesn’t look like I’m doing much; all this watering doesn’t have a lot to show for it. Today I planted potatoes, and hauled two wheelbarrows full of fresh mulch into the bed. You can’t tell at all; it’s just more dirt.
- Day-to-day, writing doesn’t look like much. It’s a lot of sitting behind a keyboard. It can be tough when someone says “so, what have you written?” and you know there is nothing you can point them to. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t been hard at work.
I’ve decided to think of my writing process as a garden: tend it well, and it will reap rewards…eventually. How do you think of your writing career? How do you keep yourself motivated?