Saturday, September 13, 2008

Garden of Words


I love this time of year. The pulse quickens with the coolness in the air, the night descends a bit earlier, and breezes stir the baked leaves on parched trees. One of my favorite things to do about now is to plant my fall garden. I’ve been working on this for the last two days and yesterday, as I was pulled leggy impatiens from the ground, I thought about how gardening is like editing a piece of writing.

You’ve got your summer garden bed. It’s colorful in places, yes, but in others the plants are withered, speckled with brown from having been ravaged by the August sun, or just plain dead.

Well polished writing is like a garden during its peak. When we sit down to compose something, we recognize when we've created something good. A bolt of energy zips through our veins. We know when what we’ve written is vibrant and blooming because the rereading of the passage gives us (and hopefully others) pleasure.

Our less successful writing is flat and and droopy. It's like a parched plant or is corroded with so many grammatical or structural errors that the sentences are ready to fall apart like a rosebush that has been ruthlessly gnawed at by Japanese beetles. To nurture our gardens, we feed the plants and remove the weeds. To nurture our writing, we fertilize our language with inventive imagery and weed out cliches and trite phrases.

Yesterday, as I dug holes for a grouping of Autumn Joy sedum and some “Fiesta” violas, I thought about how I should be doing a better job prepping the soil, but I felt rushed (as usual) and just stuck the plants in the ground and promised to give them a dose of organic plant food late on. I’m shamed to admit it— but I’ve done this with my writing too. There have been moment when I haven’t felt in the mood or have come across a writing block the size of the Great Wall of China and just turned away instead of figuring out how to climb over it.

Sometimes, we just need to take a moment outside - to feel the sun on our faces and smell the smoke from a burning leaf pile to remind us that no draft is done until we say it's done. We can till, and plant, and weed until our writing is a garden of prose.

It's autumn. It’s the season of change. If you’ve got something in your mind you’ve been longing to commit to paper or have a manuscript tucked far back in the desk drawer, dig it out! Prune away the lackluster words or scenes and blend in some fresh colors—some marigold, crimson, and electric orange. Work until your back aches. Work until you're proud of the piece of beauty you've created. Then sit back and wait for rain.

What is your work in progress? In the yard, in the house, or on the computer?