Last month we talked about my cat, who is not a writer (or else who is, depending upon how many opposable thumbs you think it takes). We also watched a video about working with me made by the wonderful #1 Kindle Best Selling author Stu Wakefield.
Now this morning the cat is asleep on my feet, Stu is on the rocky Orkney Islands researching his novels, and I am sore all over from working in my garden all weekend.
So let’s talk about writing and gardening.
Because you’d be surprised at the similarities.
Gardening is hard work
This can be news to those of us not raised by gardeners.
I happen to have been to be raised by farmers, who are gardeners gone lunatic. My grandparents and great-grandparents owned large potato farms in Southern California, to which they’d migrated from Lodi (when my grandmother told me she was born in Lodi, I said, “Oh, Grandma. Nobody was born in Lodi”), to which they’d migrated from South Dakota, to which they’re migrated from the great Russian steppes, where I have no doubt at all those people farmed potatoes.
They were Germans. What else would they farm?
So everywhere I lived in my childhood, I was surrounded by fields and fields of agriculture, mostly potatoes. And everyplace we moved, my parents put in a kitchen garden.
Now I do it too.
Which is why my husband and I have spent the last few weekends outdoors busting our heinies in the garden. We happen to have very, very heavy clay soil here, so when I say “busting,” I mean parts of our bodies were actually breaking and falling off.
You know why I do this?
So when I come back indoors on Monday I will be all rested up and primed for the seriously hard work:
Gardening is about the big picture
On my pauses between client manuscripts, I like to lean on my office windowsill and gaze down from the attic upon my garden below. My garden is very nicely-planned, because I am a past-graphic-designer and also extremely OCD. I picture it in my mind bursting with opulent green leaves and massive vegetables and the undeniable good health of a garden well-loved.
Even though it spends a lot of its life just looking like a whole lot of dirt.
I know, in the back of my mind, that I do this every year, that every year begins with whole a lot of dirt backed by a whole lot of optimism. Some years I get the opulence, and some years I get a bunch of scraggly dying stuff surrounded by weeds, which all but grabs me by the collar and begs me to put it out of its misery.
At such times, I ask myself why I keep at it.
And I answer myself, “Because this is what I do.”
Gardening lies in the little details
I always worry every spring about the tiny seedlings out there struggling through sun and wind and rain to extend their root systems and buckle down to photosynthesis and eventually maybe—just maybe—one day be the proud green parents of the fruits of their labor.
Then I go back to my clients, who are also knocking themselves out to extend the roots of their knowledge of this craft and buckle down to producing scenes and maybe—just maybe—one day be the proud bookish parents of the fruits of their labor.
I know all about how many complicated and even contradictory techniques a writer must master in order to result in a completed story.
They usually don’t.
So I teach them. Slowly and carefully.
I try not to burn their tender roots with too much information too fast. And I encourage them to produce scenes, knowing many of those scenes will not add to the finished story but will assist in photosynthesizing the fuel for the final scenes. And I keep reminding my clients that the goal is not a whole lot of dirt—as necessary as that is for results—or even opulent leaves.
The goal is fruit.
You can’t always control the outcome
Sadly, there are things bigger and stronger than gardeners. We call it weather. We also call it wildlife, insects, fungus, and pure bad luck.
Part of the craft of gardening lies in learning each of these challenges and the many techniques developed by gardeners throughout the ages to meet them. And part of it lies in learning to be good sports.
Because life is not just gardening.
Life is being alive, whether the gardening goes well or not.
We talk constantly here on this blog—in my books, on video, on my advice column, on my writing Lab, in my Ask Victoria column on the Writer Unboxed newsletter, even on Twitter—about the zillions of techniques of writing craft designed by writers throughout the ages.
But part of this work lies in learning to be good sports. It’s not always going to turn out the way we want.
We’re not always going to be up to the task of realizing the visions in our imaginations. And even when we are, the rest of the publishing industry (agents, acquisitions editors, marketers, booksellers, reviewers, other bloggers, and most importantly readers) are not necessarily going to cooperate.
And that has to be all right—life is not just writing.
Life is being alive, whether the writing goes well or not.
Gardening is only worth it if you long with all your heart to garden
Sometimes when I guest post I hear from the readers of other blogs (never here—I don’t think anyone following this blog has any question about the meaning of the work we do) that I seem to expect an awful lot from writers, when they’re really only in the game to make big bucks with this new self-marketing gizmo about which everyone talks so much.
“I’m only writing to finance my real love,” I hear, “competitive afghan-knitting or professional spelunking or entreprenureal self-marketing or, you know, my art.”
And I respond with enthusiastic, heartfelt encouragement for them to do what they love.
Writing is not a way to finance your real life.
It’s not even a way to finance writing.
In spite of JK Rowling, Stephen King, and Amanda Hocking, writing is and remains a passion. Writing is something we do not because it always bears fruit (it doesn’t) or because the big picture is a snapshot (it isn’t) or because the myriad details ever end (they don’t) or—certainly—because it’s possible to guarantee the results of our writing will turn out just the want we want (they never do). . .
But because it’s our real love.
Oh, people. We can’t ask life for more than that.
MILLLICENT G. DILLON, the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles, has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb.
BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan.
LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth.
SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway.
STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited his second novel, Memory of Water and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water.
ANIA VESENNY is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights.
TERISA GREEN is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with her to develop a new speculative fiction series.
CHRIS RYAN drew acclaim from the New Yorker for the hook to his novel Heliophobia. He is the author of poetry collection The Bible of Animal Feet from Farfalla Press. I edited Ryan’s debut novel The Ishmael Blade and worked with him to develop Heliophobia and his work-in-progress Pogue.
JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with her to develop and edit her memoir of reconciling her liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland.
In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.