Sunday, March 20, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Spring is definitely here, so I worked for 5 hours today on my allotment (aka Emma Darwin's garden).  I spend most of my time glued to a laptop, either writing or editing, so it was good to get out into the fresh air and use my hands (and back, oh my aching back) to do something just as creative, but completely different.

Anyway, while I was digging, pruning and planting, my brain was still in authorial mode, creating an extended metaphor of gardening as writing.  We often use the phrase, 'cutting out the dead wood', but it seems to me we can take the analogy a lot further than that.


As Spring approaches, gardeners think about the growing season ahead.  We decide what we're going to plant, get the seeds in, perhaps research a bit about the best ways to produce healthy plants from those seeds.

Some authors do more planning in advance than others, but the minimum at this stage is to have an idea about the identity of the book you're going to write and start to think about your characters and the situations you're going to put them in.  If there are areas you're not sure about, this is the point when you need to start thinking about where to go to fill in any gaps in your knowledge.  It may be a matter of net surfing; perhaps there are non-fiction books you'll want to get hold of; or museums you need to visit; or people to speak to.

Planting the seeds

The gardener's seeds are the author's words.  You need to choose the strongest, healthiest seeds and plant them in the most appropriate place.  Different seeds/words have different attributes and where you put them is as important as how strong they are.  Once you've decided on the best spot (sun or shade, soil type, drainage etc) some people might place them in neat, regimented rows; others might choose wavy lines or zigzags.  Either way, you want them to be clear and easy to identify.


Once the little darlings are beginning to sprout, you're going to need to be ruthless in dealing with those other darlings: weeds.  This might be hard.  Perhaps that weed is really pretty and you're reluctant to tear it up by the roots and bung it on the compost heap.  But if it's taking the attention of the sun's rays and the soil's nutriments away from your plants, then it has to go.  You could always pull it up and transplant it elsewhere if you can't bear to throw it away.  You might even have a separate space for replanting those weeds you're really attached to.  For a writer, this could mean creating a file for those superfluous scenes and threads that don't belong in your story.

Cutting out the dead wood

This is different from weeding.  That dead wood had a function.  It was once a living part of the bush or shrub.  Without it, there would be no future growth.  But its time has passed.  It's tangled and unsightly.  It distracts the eye from the beauty of the new shoots.  At worst, it can strangle those fragile new buds and prevent them flourishing.

For a writer, this kind of redundant content consists of writing that you, as the author, needed in order to envisage the world you have created and the people within it so that you could convey them to your reader.  But does the reader actually need it?  If you've done your job well enough, they might well not.  Maybe it's a chunk of back story or a character summary.  Or a paragraph of telling that undermines suspense and interrupts the pace.  Identifying this dead wood and being ruthless in cutting it out will make your story flow better.  It had its function but now you need to prune it out.

Water liberally

In this analogy, the watering applies to the gardener, not the garden.  Be good to yourself.  Don't allow yourself to get dehydrated.  Celebrate your successes and hard work by rewarding yourself with regular glugs of fresh water. Or gin.

Reap the harvest

Eating the fruits of your labours - there's no feeling like it.  You grew that.  You made it happen.  It's the same for you when you finish your book.  It's an amazing achievement and one which you should savour and feel proud of.

So there we go.  Gardening as a literary endeavour.  I've flogged the metaphor to death but it makes a change from my usual one of giving birth.

Here's hoping that some of the seeds we plant bear fruit and maybe even win prizes, whether they're for the largest marrow or the sweetest spinach.



Sharon J said...

Really clever analogy, Debi. Oddly enough, both my garden and my writing have gone down the drain these past couple of years. Maybe if I get the garden going again, the muse will return, too :)

Debi said...

I don't know how you'd find the time and energy, Sharon. Maybe get someone else to do the garden while you watch and write.

Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

I love this analogy. At least your analogies are both quite beautiful experiences, whereas, I once likened the experience of writing a first draft as vomitting!

Debi said...

That works, Michele! But I don't think I'll write a whole blog post exploring that particular metaphor. Tho you never know ...

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