Thursday, March 21, 2013

Weed and Feed: What Gardeners and Writers Know

Spring arrived yesterday. She was all, "Don't fuss. I'm fine as I am. Oh, but a glass of water would be nice. Poland Spring if you've got it. Ice and a slice of lemon, please. "

Hello, high-maintenance season!

Why do we trip over ourselves to welcome her? She's capricious. One day dawns sunny and clear and the next churns with storm clouds. Temperatures reach for the eighties and dive bomb into the thirties. She'll threaten drought and send twelve straight hours of rain. And she never stops tinkering with humidity levels. 

Ah, but she doles out delicious rewards. In Houston (that's zone 9b, aka "humid, subtropical" to you) redbuds are in bloom, azaleas have morphed into living, oxygenating pom-poms of pink, purple, and white, and bluebonnets dot highway medians.

In return for this bounty, all spring asks is that we weed, work compost into the soil, fertilize, mulch, prune, trim, bundle, haul off, apply fungicide, check for scale, dream of lushness, and gird ourselves for disappointment.

Gardening and writing have a lot in common. All writing asks is that we bring experience and imagination to the table, ruthlessly cut flabby sentences and paragraphs, feed the muse, edit some more, guard against self-indulgent passages, keep distractions to a minimum/welcome distractions as fodder, dream of bestsellerdom and gird ourselves for rejection.

Writing beats spring in the capricious department. One day, we have so many ideas, we pick and choose among them. The next, we rewrite the same paragraph too many times to count, making it worse with each revision.

Seeds, like ideas, must germinate. Some get optimum growing conditions yet fail. Others flourish despite poor soil, parching wind, and pests. 

Gardeners prepare the soil. Writers plot.  Both supplement as needed.

Drought is gardening's equivalent to writer's block. 

Almost every growing season, one plant succeeds dramatically. A gardener may rejoice in its blossoming or see it as a bully determined to choke out the others. He'll give it free rein or cut it down to size, and that decision determines how his garden grows. So it is with stories. Will a writer allow one character to dominate or insist on an ensemble piece? Will what was envisioned as romantic suspense be permitted to tilt toward pure suspense? The writer decides, and that decision may shape a career.

Writing bills itself as low-maintenance. All a person really needs is a pencil and paper, right? Ah but a laptop's a time-saver, and a netbook's nice for travel. Conferences are essential for networking, and membership in at least one writers' group is oh-so-helpful. WiFi's a must because we must connect to the wider world. Then there are the rituals: a lighted candle for some, a playlist on the iPod for others. Some of us take coffee in our "lucky" mug, and others require a tall glass of Poland Spring water, with ice and lemon, please.  

Gardeners put in extra-long hours in springtime, but the work continues all year. Likewise, a writer's job is never done. Admit it, gardeners and writers, we like it that way.

Me, I've got to write a scene in the work-in-progress. Afterwards, I'll weed like crazy. Oh, and I have pruning to do and must carve out quality time for compost. 

What about you? Do you see parallels between gardening and writing? What are you planting or plotting at the moment?


Jennette Marie Powell said...

We had snow this morning in Ohio. O.o. My writing has also been derailed due to health issues. So please send some spring this way!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I'm sorry about the snow and the health issues, Jennette. I'm sending you warm weather, virtual lantana, and a hug.

Coleen Patrick said...

I am not so great at gardening, although to be honest I don't put in that much effort. Someday. Although I do compost very well. How does composting compare with writing?? Maybe idea generating? :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Coleen,
I like to think writers build piles of compost made up of deleted imagery, paragraphs, and story lines. Everything we abandon or discard provides fodder for the next character or story.

Then again, I may be full of c*&p, which is compostable.

Lark Howard said...

Hi Pat! Wish I had the time and a place to garden. Alas, I have neither and miss an activity I use to enjoy immensely. Which doesn't mean I'm not shoveling my share of manure.

Enjoy your spring. You know only too well what's on its way.

Kassandra Lamb said...

I have a terrible brown thumb so I hope this analogy doesn't extend too far. My basic rule for my garden is that I plant it. If it grows I plan more of that kind of plant; if it dies, I don't.

Hmm, how is that like writing? I guess the comparison is to my characters. Some blossom and grow into larger roles; others fade away. :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

You had to remind me, Lark. Oh, how I hate Houston summers. This time of year is glorious, though.

Keep shoveling that manure. It's the best fertilizer for stories.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Kassandra,
If I extend your gardening analogy to writing, I see you developing characters so appealing, readers demand you bring them back in story after story. Kate Huntington comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs. Patricia O'Dea Rosen,

Just wondering - do the Seasons have gender? Is Spring a "she" and Summer a "he"? Well, I guess Spring should be a "she" - remember Spring Byington? (If you do, don't admit it).

When I was in Investment Banking I had to write a proposal and my boss edited the document (in red ink, of course)so severely that the paper looked like it was bleeding. He said redacting was easy - actually putting something down on paper for the first time is the really hard thing to do.

I think there is a relationship between gardening and writing - we enjoy looking at what we create, whatever it looks like.

There is a Spanish poem (from Puerto Rico) that describes a one-armed, one-eyed, one-armed hunchback with a flattened nose admiring himself in a mirror. Finally he says, "Ah yes, Man is the most beautiful thing that God created."

And that's the way we writers are -our stories are the most beautiful thing that we created.

- Patrick

Lynette M Burrows said...

The other way gardening is like writing is that some gardeners go to great lengths to plan their garden so that each season has a bloom, colors are coordinated, and there's a symmetry to the sizes and shapes of plants. Other gardeners (myself included) are more of the try this and try that to see what works. Planners and Pantsers. They exist everywhere. Great post, Pat. We're having snow as well, so much for the groundhog and first day of spring. :)

Sheila Seabrook said...

We've had about two feet of snow since last Friday, so spring -- and gardening -- has been delayed. While I'm waiting though, I've been rearranging the WIP, like I do my flowerbeds. Dig out a scene here, plop it over there where hopefully it will thrive and flouris, not die. Sigh. They're both incredibly hard work, one on the body, the other on the brain, so they compliment each other, don't they, Pat? :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patrick,
I DO remember Spring Byington. My mother was a big fan of Lucille Ball, so the family always watched I Love Lucy. Am I right in thinking December Bride followed it? Spring Byington was lovely, wasn't she?

Spring, the season, seems feminine to me because of the colors. Right now, Houston is in glorious bloom.

Your long-ago boss was right: editing is easier than writing. That said, writing is full of surprises that make it, in my humble opinion, the more stimulating task.

Usually, I'm critical of my own work. I have to admit, though, I loved the first paragraph of this blog post so much I couldn't make myself delete it. In other words, you caught me admiring a paragraph in the mirror.

Please call me Pat.

Oh! One more way gardening is like writing: both tasks take triple the amount of time I think they'll take.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I'm a pantser in writing and gardening, too, Lynette, but gardening is teaching me to plan better. For example, I've learned that if I till and add compost and fertilizer BEFORE planting, I don't have to fuss as much later.

The groundhog really got it wrong this year. Too bad he doesn't get GROUNDHOG DAY-like do-overs.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Pat. But you'll have to call me Pat too because that's really the name I go by - I was only called Patrick when I was in trouble.

I don't know if you know it or not but Dennis the Menace's middle name was Patrick and in one of those Dennis movies one could often hear his mother yelling "Dennis Patrick Mitchell" when he was in trouble - which was always.

You're correct, December Bride followed Lucy - Remember Harry Morgan (from M*A*S*H) was the next door neighbor Pete who had a wife Gladys who was never seen (like Lillith on Frazier)? We're aging ourselves here.

Yes writing does take a long time -I spend a great deal of time staring at a blank sheet.

How did Victor Hugo write without spellcheck?

Enjoy your blog.

- Pat

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Sheila,
Like you, I move around plants and scenes. More times than not, the change works. Why is that, do you think? Do we unconsciously know the element is right for the story and will work once we find where it belongs?

Weeding is my therapy and refuge. When something's wrong with a scene and I can't fix it, I take a weeding break. I may not end up with a functioning scene at the end of the day, but the flower beds look good.

Two feet of snow? Oh, Sheila! I am sending some Texas warmth your way.

Karen McFarland said...

LOL Pat! "Then again, I may be full of c*&p, which is compostable." You crack me up! Yep, we're all gardeners at heart. Although, lately my garden has not been fertilized. It is overgrown with weeds. If I don't get busy soon, I'm afraid my garden will never bloom. It's back to work for me! Thanks Pat! :)