My dad is a master gardener. He taught me early on that canned peas are to fresh what beef jerky is to top sirloin and that it takes skill, patience and passion to cultivate organic works of art. While I’m grateful to have inherited his zest for creating, I gained not a cell of his green thumb. (My dead Chia Pet’s ghost will vouch for me…May it RIP.)
Gardening philosophies work well in writing. Some proper planning and nurturing can help ensure that our stories grow, thrive and nourish ourselves and our readers. So don your grungies. We’re about to get dirty…
Lesson #1: Assess Your Seeds
Many of us recall the moment the “seed” of our work first appeared. Sometimes we seek it out—”Hmm… I’d like to write a novel. It will be about..hmm…” More often, the notions strike us out of the perceivable blue—”Give me a pen! HAVE to write this down.” These “seeds” can strike at any time of the day or night, whether you’re half way through your first novel or haven’t yet scripted a sentence.
People often ask writers where we get our ideas and whether we fear we’ll “run out.” This makes me laugh. We’re overloaded with ideas; we need only stay open to them. I have a Word document and several notebooks of ideas that have struck me at random times. It doesn’t matter where you jot them down, just that you do.
Lesson #2: Prioritize Passion
Tomatoes may seem easier to grow then, say, avocados. But if your dreams feature artichokes and you crave homemade guacamole at every meal, plant artichokes!(Lucky for us, we don’t have to worry ourselves with season or soil-appropriate ventures…) I asked my agent recently which book he’d prefer I focus on completing next. His reply? “Whichever you feel most strongly about.” He knows that this is where the best, sellable stories begin—with passion. Ask yourself what you want to write, then write that.
Multi-published author, Marc Shuster, shares some fantastic thoughts on writing “for love” in this post.
Lesson #3: Start Small
As a kid, authors were some of my heros. One thing that awed me about each book was the fact that someone wrote it. (“It’s so long! So many words… Seems so complicated. How do they keep their facts straight? Must take forever…”) If you focus on cultivating an orchard when all you have is an apple seed, intimidation can damage your soil and send you dashing in the opposite direction.
My first novel started as a short film that became a short story and so on. Don’t obsess over the end at the beginning; start with one line, one page, one chapter… If you’re approaching a second or third work, or wish to try something in another format or genre, apply similar principles. Write some lyrics, not a symphony. Sketch out a few scenes before the whole series. You get the idea.
Lesson #4: Grow First, Prune Later
A talented friend of mine is working on his memoir. “I have a hard time knowing what I should put in and leave out,” he said, in part because he fears offending people in his story. Such fear can sabotage your process. I suggested he get his entire story out, with awareness that he can trim away whatever he’d like later on.
Whether you outline or not, allowing what crops up to unfold as you write can lead to some of the most genuine, unique and riveting additions to your story. Yes, you’ll create some needless, perhaps ridiculous, bits. Who cares? Consider them weeds and pluck them out during the revision process.
Lesson #5: Keep A Mulch Pile
Our hearts can ache as we delete that “totally amazing sentence” we wrote. I place whatever I cut away from my work in a Word document titled “omits.” Do I end up using any of it? Rarely. But it makes trimming and editing far easier. If what you cut truly is fabulous but doesn’t fit your current work, save it for something else.
I also suggest “mulching” paper. I print out pages I’ve written to read and review, then recycle them. Use them as scratch paper or get creative. I made this at my “novel-tea” party—if you look closely you’ll get a scrambled sneak peak at my book.
Lesson #6: Share Your Goods
Fruits and veggies only do some much good sitting in your backyard soil. Pick them once they’re ripe. (In other words, don’t send a manuscript or query letter out before you’ve raked over every detail and shared it with expert eyes.) Another way to share involves writing to and for others. This post by Joe Bunting, writer, editor and founder of The Write Practice, features excellent insight on writing for people you believe in.
Lesson #7: Consider Your Readers
“My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.” – H. Fred Dale, gardening editor for the Toronto Star
You can cultivate the most splendid roses on the planet. But if the recipient is allergic, you’ll have problems… Who is your reader? What type of experience to you hope to impart? Read within your genre, if you have one. Print your manuscript and read it away from your desk, as a reader. And seek opinions from trusted, literary friends. Keep your readers in mind while revising in particular.