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12-16 Mary Buckham

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mysteries of Gardening & Writing

Did you know that creating a garden is a lot like writing romantic suspense?

Let’s begin with my “gardening” adventures. When we built our new home, the foundation sat on a sea of red clay, broken only by the trees we attempted to save and the rocks we discovered every time we stuck a pick ax in the ground. If top soil ever existed, we never saw it. The builder spread a couple truckloads of mulch and seeded fescue. So, that first winter, we had swatches of lush green lawn, surrounding islands of brown mulch.

By summer, weeds out-competed the fescue (not a good choice for full South Carolina sun) and flourished in our mulch oases. Wanting to be “green,” my hubby and I were loath to nuke every living organism with killer chemicals. Our goal was a landscape where native plants and trees thrived without constant irrigation, and with minimal weeding. Did I mention we’re also cheap, er, frugal? We didn’t want to pay someone to care for our yard.

Desperate, I signed up for a Master Gardener course. I figured I’d learn how to transform our wasteland into a flowering utopia. The course taught me many things about soil composition, pH levels and amendments. I learned how to distinguish a termite from a winged ant. I watched an instructor graft a flowering tree onto a hardier root stock. I learned the central tenants of landscape design.
Unfortunately, the course didn’t teach me how to tell whether a plant flourishing in my backyard was a weed, some scary invasive species, or a native plant I ought to encourage. I remained clueless about what to plant, where to plant it, and how to keep it alive. I am still learning these things—from avid gardeners who are kind enough to share their knowledge (as well as plants), from trial and error, from visiting other gardens, and from doing.

So, what does trial-and-error gardening have to do with writing romantic suspense? A lot. When I first decided to make the move from nonfiction to fiction, I signed up for a fiction class with author Brewster Milton Robertson. I learned a lot in his class, but what I remember most is Brewster’s reassurance: “The writing will teach you.”

That class was step one on my journey as a fiction author. Each day, I continue to learn. I learn from critique partners willing to share their knowledge and insights. I learn from reading authors who are masters in my genre. I pick up tips from taking courses and attending conferences. I learn from teaching classes—both from brushing up on material I may have forgotten and from student questions and interaction. I learn from my own mistakes and my successes.

If you’re committed to being an author (or a gardener), I don’t think you can ever stop learning. I hope I never do. What learning avenues do you value most as you strive to improve your craft?

9 comments:

Kathy McIntosh said...

Great post, Linda!
What I find similar between gardening and writing is that when I tell myself I HAVE to weed, dig, mulch, edit, write new pages, I am reluctant. When I remind myself that this direction was one I chose, it becomes a joy and a gift.
I confess I need occasional reminders!

Ashantay said...

So, Linda, when are you coming to plan gardens for me?

Learning by doing works for me, and it's a teaching approach that lazy people usually avoid. Like me. No telling how I decided that the only way to improve was to write, but that's what happened. I'm still learning, as you can see.

Thanks for the post!

Linda Lovely said...

Kathy, you are absolutely right! There's some scut work that's necessary in both activities and getting motivated to do it can be tough. I try to schedule a block of time. In summer, I try to do 1 hour of weeding before breakfast. Year round, I try to set aside a specific time for those pesky editing, rewriting chores.

Linda Lovely said...

Ashantay, plan a garden, you say? Did I mention I'm a pantster when it comes to plotting both stories and gardens. Thanks for dropping by.

Robin Weaver said...

Interesting comparison. One key difference, is weeds (like conflict) makes a story interesting, but we can certainly do without them in our gardens. Great post.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

What an excellent simile! I love the creativity of your post. I agree as a writer, we need to always keep on learning and improving.

Diana Mcc. said...

Love the simile! A garden is definitely like a writing career. The more time and effort and dedication one puts into it, the more likely it will thrive and grow. Taking classes and going to writing classes have improved my writing tremendously.

Carole St-Laurent said...

By that picture your posted, I'd say you learned a lot more than you're letting on in your gardening class. It looks green and luscious!

Great post, Linda.

Judith Ashley said...

Hi Linda,

I was attending the Emerald City Writers Conference last week so missed your post until this a.m. That is one thing I do to improve my craft - attend conferences, workshops, and then read authors I think have mastered a piece of the craft I'm attempting to learn.

After 10 years or more of battling the Marsh Marigold, I finally took the Round-up out and nuked it - more than once, and then buried it under landscape fabric and 3 - 5 inches of hemlock.

So far so good - but we'll see what happens in the spring (it comes and goes in the spring). I've got some Round-up in reserve if any plants poke their leafy heads above ground.

After using natural products, digging out roots (only makes it grow more), etc. etc. etc. I took drastic measures. Now I look out my office window and see what I want (trees, ferns, huckleberry bushes, a climbing rose, etc.). Much, much better!

While I am editing a manuscript at this time, hopefully I don't need the editing equivalent of Round-up to get rid of the pesky writing patterns that do not help my story!