Sunday, April 26, 2015

Just do something! What writing and gardening have in common.

Recently, as I finished a final round of edits on CROOKED LITTLE LIES, my novel that is coming out shortly from Amazon/Lake Union, I was also putting in the major elements of the garden that has been in the planning stages since I moved out to the country a year ago, and I was thinking how similar the two occupations are. Either undertaking begins with a thought, an idea, an image, some whisper of something that sends you out the door or to the desk. Notes are jotted down. Sketches are made. Plans are put into action. Sometimes you hit a wall. Out here in the country, in particular, where there aren’t the usual parameters, like sidewalks, driveways and privacy fences, to define the area, I’m often stumped. How far should I take the limestone dry-stack wall? What, exactly, should the cedar rail fence with its adorable peaked arbor encompass? I go outside and stare, trying to decide. It’s very like sitting at my computer, wondering which way to take a plot or a character in a story.

Gardener’s block and writer’s block have a lot in common. There’s a certain despair, rising levels of frustration and anxiety. I can almost see this little person in my head pacing the floor, wringing her hands. Until a voice speaks up, yelling: Just do something! In the case of writing it means type a sentence even if it’s gibberish. In the garden, it might mean getting a few rocks, adding them to the existing wall and stepping back to evaluate. Or it might mean digging up that entire clump of daylilies, because they’re in the wrong place. It can get complicated with crafting a story, too, requiring of anything from ripping out an entire plotline to totally changing an ending.

Built from cedar harvested on the property, this little arbor
 in January looks pretty bare, but it has lots of potential.
And the two processes also share similarities in the method by which either one is created. Both start with good bones. In the garden, I begin with hardscaping, a wall, a length of fence, statuary or a pergola—some focal point to build around. In story writing I begin if not with a fully fleshed synopsis then at least I will have the bones of an idea. And in either case, for me, anyway, the bones need to be strong and compelling. I need an ocean’s worth of enthusiasm, because either way, I‘m going to be lost in this muddy, unknown territory for awhile. Either project is going to take time to complete, and there are bound to be setbacks, small heartbreaks and jabs of disappointment, never mind the odd bouts of confusion, the times I grope around wondering wondering where I am. It’s as easy to garden your way into a corner, as it is to write your way into one. 

But there is one difference between the two occupations, one that I discovered only now, as I sent CROOKED LITTLE LIES back to my lovely editor for the last time. I went outside to the garden, my go-to place. It’s always been my sanctuary even as it can be the greatest source for distress, and as I
This is Sophia, my beautiful garden muse,
found this spring. 
was looking over results of my early spring efforts so far, and feeling impatient that the perennials are so small, that the shrubs haven’t filled in, that the trees will need their canvas-strap supports for another six months and I hate how it looks, the word STOP! popped into my head. A voice continued: You’re missing it, the beauty now. The beauty of beginning, of watching something grow. It often happens that I’ll hear this voice, my higher self, the one that knows how to find the joy in life. And I’m so grateful for it, to have cultivated it so it’s usually louder than the voice of my frustration. It’s this voice, what I’ve come to think of as the voice of my joy, that sees me through the hard places in life. It’s there whenever I care to listen no matter what I’m doing, and definitely whether I’m writing or gardening. But back to the difference between them, standing in the garden that day, while I did slow down and let my vision fill with the beauty that is already in evidence, that little voice spoke up again to whisper that while the book was finished, the garden, like so many other gardens I’ve begun in my lifetime, never will be done. I will always walk outside and see something I want to do there. In fact, I will quite possibly die thinking of the phlox or some other clump of whatever flowers, how tomorrow I will move them as they have overgrown their place in the border. And perhaps that is a garden’s value, that one is never finished conspiring with nature over its creation. It comforted me, even elated me, having that thought. And I guess it does share a similarity with writing after all. I can’t see how I’ll ever be finished with conjuring plots, either, for the characters that continue to get up and walk around in my head.