Spring’s Lessons in Patience: How Tending a Garden is like Writing a Book

Hi, it’s Kate Flora, with some thoughts that may explain why so many writers are also gardeners.

This is what my garden looks like today. This is my front lawn. And this is my lovely new bed of perennial grasses, day lilies, and roses. Perspective has never been my strong suit, and this year it seems like winter is taking an even slower route as it retreats to reveal the green beneath. On days like this, when I want to be outside working, it is hard to be patient and let the season progress at its own pace.

But if I retreat inside and sit at my desk, I can start thinking about the similarities between the writing process and the gardening process. The slow advent of spring, coupled with the first tentative flowers and the brave and intrepid beginnings of my returning perennials reminds me of the beginning of any book. First there is just a blank expanse–the freshly raked brown earth outside, the scary white of an empty screen inside. But slowly, if I am patient and diligent, and trust in the process, the first flowerings of story will take place.

As they begin, my characters are just small hints of what they will become, emerging from my imagination and showing only those first physical bits. But as the story, like spring, progresses, more of my characters will be revealed. How colorful they will be. The shape they will take. Whether their flowering will be bold and florid or subtle and ephemeral. They remind me that if I am patient with the process, I will be rewarded with flowering prose, surprising insights, unexpected strengths and weaknesses, and certain progress.

Like the perennials in my garden, some of them will be reticent, or appear for only a short time, making a brief, yet decisive statement. Others will want to take over. They will want to be center stage and try to crowd the others out. Some, like my chrysanthemums, will need pruning to fit into the story so they don’t sprawl everywhere. Others will need to be staked and supported if they are to realize their full potential. Some will serve their purpose early and fade out into obscurity.

Also, like the shape of a novel, my garden will be building, inexorably, toward the crescendo which is fall. There will be flowers, just as there are characters, whose true nature is not clear until close to the end. Small plants that seemed to be content to play second fiddle that muscle their way to the front. Plants that seemed to be contributing enough in their slow, steady way that suddenly blossom into glorious surprises. Other plants that were a continual pain in the neck that reward my faith and attention.

Then, as the climax is reached, the epiphanies realized, and frost–or typing The End–brings the story to a close. It is time to let go of that season, those plants or those characters, and wait until winter’s snow has passed, or the imagination has rested, and a fresh new plot of ground, or another scary white screen awaits the beginning of a new season, and a new story.

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7 Responses to Spring’s Lessons in Patience: How Tending a Garden is like Writing a Book

  1. Sue Curtin says:

    This is lovely — wonderful in its tones and rhythms, aided by visuals, gentle, patient, but so active in an unseen way — ideas and characters waiting “underground” to be surfaced by the writer/gardener.
    I love it and will share it with my writers’ group. Thank you!

  2. John Clark says:

    And, as the illustrious A. Carman Clark would mutter from her hands and knees, about weeds?

  3. John Clark says:

    Corrected comment: And what, as the illustrious A. Carman Clark would mutter from her hands and knees, about weeds?

  4. Janet Mendelsohn says:

    Wonderful imagery. Mind if I post a link to this on Facebook?

  5. sandy gardner says:

    wonderful descriptions, Kate!

  6. MCWriTers says:

    Thanks, everyone. If you read my mother’s “ghost post” yesterday…you’ll see where the inspiration came from.


  7. Lil Gluckstern says:

    Really lovely. Now I know why I enjoy your writings so much, even if a lot of the the rhythms will be subliminal.

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