Friday, April 26, 2013

Growing Your Writing

by Barbara Claypole White

Gardening, like writing, is not for wimps. Spring gardening in North Carolina, where I live, may seem to be all dogwood blossoms and wild wisteria, but it also marks the beginning of the annual war on disease, pestilence, and drought.

And yet gardening has taught me some valuable lessons:

Deer damage isn’t permanent
When deer treat your garden as an all-night buffet, the destruction is mortifying but mostly harmless. Even mauled plants grow back. And bad reviews may drive you to gin, but you will live to write another day.

Prune to fit
I never understand why people complain when a shrub outgrows its space. The pruning shears are you friend. Use without mercy. Although, with writing, you can keep the cuttings if it makes you feel better.

Gardening buddies rock
Like writing, gardening is a solitary endeavor, but road trips to nurseries are more fun with a carload of devoted gardeners. Being an author takes a village, and a huge part of that village consists of other writers. Support them and they will support you. And commiserate about the deer damage / one-star reviews.

The mulch pile will get spread
Spreading mulch is a backbreaking, time-consuming, soul-destroying chore best done before June brings unbearable heat. But you don’t have to spread the mulch pile all at once. Ten yards of mulch arrived two weeks before my line edits, and that pile stares at me every day. But when I’ve fried from fighting with track changes, I take an hour off to spread mulch. And I come back to my desk feeling a little more in control of my mulch pile. (And I know it will be gone by June. Or maybe July.)
There are no shortcuts
I have rocky clay and an infestation of voles. (Unlike deer damage, vole damage is fatal. Little bastards eat the roots.) Planting is a slow job. I have to dig out the stones, work the soil, add compost, line each hole with permatill, and add mulch. Gardening, like writing, is bloody hard work, but the payoff comes when you get it right…

Plants grow In unexpected places
My main flowerbed is spilling beyond its bounds. Plants self-seed in the gravel, and a chocolate vine has leapt from its trellis to push up through the planks of the deck and wind around the railing. My promotional life as an author has been equally organic. I’ve made connections, followed my gut, and planted seeds. Some of those have grown in ways I could never have imagined.

Natural-looking gardens take work
You can spend an entire Sunday afternoon tying up one clematis, and no one notices. But as you systematically work through the bed--pruning, staking, weeding, and transplanting, something magical happens, and one day even the UPS guys says, “Wow. Your garden looks great ma'am. All lush and overgrown.”

Gardens can thrive on neglect
I started my main bed a few years before The Unfinished Garden, and it’s still a work in progress. But in the months before and after my book launch, I ignored it. By October, the garden had never looked better. I had huge, ongoing promotional plans for TUG, which I abandoned to tend and fall in love with novel two. Is TUG dead? No, and I’m still fielding requests from book clubs and receiving lovely letters from readers. 

Even in severe drought, plants survive
Gardening can be heartbreaking. Severe drought and watering restrictions can ruin years of hard work and make you feel it’s all so pointless. Some plants, however, shut down not to die, but to survive. Leave them alone and they’ll come back when they’re ready. Writing often needs to percolate. Time and distance can be a blessing.

Gardening is about adapting
Yes, you can have a grand plan for an award-winning garden, but so much of gardening is beyond your control. A true gardener is a master of resilience. A true gardener never gives up, never surrenders. A true gardener knows that despite the plague of white fly, despite the fifth day of 100 degrees, despite the large tree limb that flattened the mature hydrangea, there is no quitting. I garden, therefore I am. Sound familiar?

Barbara Claypole White is the author of 
The Unfinished Garden,* a love story about grief, OCD, and dirt (Harlequin MIRA 2012) 

*Finalist in the 2013 New England Readers Choice Bean Pot Award 


  1. What this clever post, Barbara. Love it.

  2. Barbara, you did it! (V. impressed with how much you get done in one day!)

    I love this post! It is so, so clever and inspiring. Just the thing needed to start the weekend!

  3. Great post, Barbara! But what I'm wondering is if gardening makes a cameo appearance in your next book!

  4. Fun comparison. I'm rather in love with this bit: "But in the months before and after my book launch, I ignored it. By October, the garden had never looked better."

    That's my recipe for growing plants. My thumb hasn't got a green speck on it, but I do love the look of gorgeous plantings that I can stick in the ground, mulch, occasionally prune, and then watch take over the empty space. Sort of like a new story.

  5. Thanks, guys. You're more on the ball than I am! I wrote this in the wee small hours of today. Wasn't sure it actually made sense… Good question, Laura. Not so much gardening as the forest, but I do sneak in a few woodland plants. How can I not? Normandie--we were meant to find each other! Brenda--open my veins today and I would bleed coffee.

  6. I think this is a lovely post, Barbara! Sometimes we think best when we can't think at all!

  7. Love the gardening/writing connection! Your main garden is so lush and pretty. You've inspired me for all of the yard clean-up I need to tackle this weekend. :)

    1. Actually, I've inspired myself to get out there this weekend. Gardening is good for the soul…

  8. Great analogy. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. I love this books.What an interesting story!

  10. Love this post. I just downloaded the book and can't wait to read it. :)

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  12. Ahhh awesome gardening is such a pleasing activity and hobby to do.Your writing skills are adorable.If you know some best phd dissertation writing services website then please do let me know.Thanks.