How Writers are Like Gardeners

I hope you all had a wonderful Earth Day and that you did your part in saving our beautiful planet. I spent a much needed day off in the garden this past weekend and it felt wonderful. Every drop of sweat, speck of dirt, and brutal scratches from wayward forsythia brought me closer to Nirvana. Crazy, I know. But how many writers love puttering in their gardens and digging in the fresh dirt? PJ Sharon here, sharing some of my interesting observations from my time with the earth. IMAG0023

While deep in thought as I toiled away, my mind could not fully escape my writer’s life, and lo and behold, I began to realize that writers are much like gardeners. Here’s how.

Writers start with a seed of an idea—a beautiful spark that takes hold deep in the fertile soil of imagination. The roots begin to spread, fashioning a network of connections to other characters and relationships, the story unfolding in our minds and shooting to the surface in search of the light of day and discovery. Our fingers dig away at the keyboard. Eventually we bring to life the intricate buds that seem to come from the cosmic funnel above—too perfect for our mere mortal ability to create without acceptance of divine intervention. Most days, I feel as if I’m a spectator in my writing process just as I understand that I am merely an extension of the Divine when I am in the garden–that I am ultimately not the one in control. That leaves me free to play, unencumbered by expectation. It would be nice if I could be so yielding in my writer’s life.

Interestingly though, even the technical aspects of writing mimic the gardener’s habits. As we writers plot and plan before we begin, so the gardener takes stock of their canvas. They prepare the soil, gather their tools, and imagine the larger picture and end result of the task ahead. They come to know their plants (characters), see all the necessary pieces (plot points), and work to put them in place with some semblance of order. Just as authors must balance narrative, dialogue, description, and backstory, the gardener must seek that same perfect balance, sometimes having to rearrange the plants and bulbs to assure proper flow of colors, textures, heights and compatibility.

Where the gardener adds water and fertilizer, the writer layers in depth of character and adds important details to show growth and development. When weeds invade the space, the gardener ruthlessly plucks them out in order to preserve the harmony of the whole. As such, writers too, need to be willing to be ruthless in their edits. As Stephen King says, we must be willing to “kill our darlings.” Although some weeds can add lovely color or thick greenery, left unchecked, they will infiltrate and destroy the harmony we seek to bring about, distracting us from the vibrant beauty of the flowers we plant.

Ultimately our reward comes when we share our story (garden) with others. Each story is unique to the writer as each garden is unique to the gardener. If the job is well done, the onlooker can see the soul of the creator on the page or in the beauty of a flawlessly designed garden. The love and care that goes into creating—whether it be a novel, a quilt, a beautiful painting, or a colorful garden—is what sets us apart in the animal kingdom. Our ability to create and enjoy beauty is a gift that we humans share, and it should not go unappreciated no matter if you are a novice or master–writer or gardener.

One of the wonderful lessons I have learned from working in a garden is patience. It’s easy to become discouraged by rejections, but just like rainy days, the harsh weather is sometimes necessary to bring the needed motivation for plants to grow and writers to forge on. Recognizing that we need both sunshine and rain to fully mature, the gardener takes this understanding in stride much better than the writer, who often becomes frustrated by those seemingly endless weeds and rainy days. A great review, a contest win, or kind word from a critique partner are sometimes enough of a reward to keep us going when we feel overwhelmed by the tasks ahead, but as any gardener will tell you, the greatest satisfaction comes from basking in the joy of knowing that you have co-created something magnificent that grew from your own soul and from the hand of God.

But that’s just me.

So, dear readers, does this resonate with you? Are you a gardener, quilter, painter, or creator of some kind? Can you see how writing mirrors so many other creative endeavors? Kind of fascinating, isn’t it?

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7 thoughts on “How Writers are Like Gardeners”

  1. Clever parallel Paula. And I especially loved your descriptive word for the wayward forsythia. Wayward indeed, hard to control, a job to prune, but they offer good cover for messy neighbor’s yards. I am always comparing the creativity involved with writing to the arts/design/architecture. It is all about building from the ground up and watching the work take root and blossom. I especially love the parallel of a blank canvas to a blank paper.

  2. Very nicely said.
    I also do pottery and ceramic artwork which can sometimes result in some not so perfect pieces. While on one hand it is terribly hard to weed out those pieces that are not up to snuff, on the other it is incredibly liberating to get out the hammer and free yourself of things you know you don’t want representing your body of work.

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