This guest post from Julie Herman originally appeared on my blog back in 2012. Julie is the author of the Three Dirty Women gardening mysteries, and she has lately expanded her literary gifts to include middle grade mysteries, beginning with Burned.
The previous article had a comment that got me to thinking. I do a lot of gardening. I do a fair bit of writing as well. (Three published mysteries featuring a trio of lady landscapers and a couple of gardening articles in Texas Gardener magazine.) So how does writing improve my gardening? For one thing there is nothing like a thorny plot tangle to motivate my feet (and the rest of me) right down the stairs and out the door to plunge my hands in the dirt to root out pesky weeds. Along about Chapter Seventeen-out-of-Twenty my beds are pretty darn pristine.
Talk about the perfect pairing. Gardening helps me think and, for me at any rate, writing needs thinking. But how does writing help my gardening?
Finding just the right turn of phrase takes longer than I would have suspected. Before I starting doing the work instead of talking about it, I had naively assumed it would be…easy…to create ambiance, characters and a believable line of action. Not so. It takes time and a sense of when things are right.
Planting garlic and onions have taught me patience. I tend to pull up a bulb every now and again to see how things are doing under the soil. Often I wish I hadn’t as then the plant either up and dies on me or takes forever to mature. Same thing with revising. If I start in too early on my revisions, then I find The End to be a lot further in my future. I have learned to keep sight of the role patience can play in allowing both my plants and my writing to mature.
Writing brings insights galore. While writing the first article I did for Texas Gardener, I was thrilled with the entire process. Cold call an expert and they spill their knowledge and enthusiasm, infecting me, the interviewer with excitement. One of my sources for that story was so compelling that I could have listened to him for another several hours. Too bad I had a deadline, and so had to hang up to get to work.
Gardening both brings and benefits from insights. Just like I find experts for my articles, I go to experts for what varieties grow well in my area and, perhaps even more fun, for stories of Things That Go Wrong. Writing has taught me that those are the stories that compel, not the ones where everything went smoothly. Who really wants to hear about your prize peony? Exactly. But mention the disaster with the fire ants and the good-looking salesman and everyone’s ears perk up.
Writing requires discipline. If you don’t put yourself in front of a pen and paper, or computer, or whatever your medium of choice is, then no words get put in order. This also translates into the garden, where, sadly, my lack of bed prep is turning into a semi-barren season for my vegetable garden. It is not chance that this happened this fall. I was not writing during the summer. Writing tends to keep me on a better schedule. Most all of my activities benefit from a regular writing schedule. Now that I’m back in the desk chair, seeds actually got sown, albeit late.
Well, writing is not Gatorade, but it is pretty darn close. My husband can tell by the greeting he receives when he walks in the back door each evening how my writing day went. If there is no dinner, either I am still typing madly away in the throes of a madcap scene or he should have picked up takeaway because I am flat out in a chair, despairing of ever finding a decent hook to the current chapter in progress.
Most importantly I have learned that staying in the chair and focusing my energy on typing produces more words on the page than getting up and pacing. So it is with gardening too. Actually putting the seeds in the ground nets me a higher yield than dogearing the corners of seed catalog pages.
Hope you all have good yields in your writing and in your garden. Eat local and buy good books from your local Indie Bookseller!