I love to grow things almost as much as I love to write things. I realised recently that these two passions of mine aren’t actually all that different.
As any gardener knows, there is no point planting anything if the soil is rubbish. The soil is the medium, the stuff from which the plants draw their sustenance. If it’s dry, devoid of nutrients, unable to retain life-giving water, then the plants will have to fight too hard to live, and they will lose. So too – if the soil is thick and sticky, laden with water, the plants will not thrive.
Even if the soil has been carefully prepared, the foundations laid for success, there is timing to contend with. Plants have temperaments, just like books – they want to be positioned where they can thrive. They have preferences for sunlight and shade, heat and cold, the right balance of nutrients to allow them to grow. Forcing a plant to reside where it cannot live is only going to result in a battle between nature and human. In my experience, nature always wins. As she should.
Writing is a different type of growth. We’ve heard before that ideas are like seeds but what I’m interested in is what happens before the seed even touches the earth. Like a garden’s soil, writing depends on what you put in before you begin. Like all art, writing is birthed in the internal, but heavily influenced and shaped by the external. The idea may be mine (or is it?), but I believe that what I’m feeding my brain and my soul will have a huge impact on whether that idea will flourish or die; become full or flowers, or a leafy vine. It’s not necessarily bad. It might take the work in a different direction, something unexpected, but just as good. Let me explain.
As a writer, I am constantly reading. I don’t trust any writer who doesn’t read. I read three, sometimes four books per week and I try to steer my tastes in different directions so that I’m exposed to as many styles as possible. But when I’m writing, I’m more careful about what I read. The words, the images, the descriptions that are filtering into my subconscious will influence my work. Just as I think carefully about getting the soil just right, the position perfect for a new plant – I make sure to prepare the foundation for my writing with discipline and care. I want to be sure that I’m putting the good stuff in, so that the good stuff is free to come out. So.. I read good books. Beautiful books. I don’t watch crap TV. I make sure I spend time outside every day, no matter how I’m feeling or how busy I am. The time will come soon enough for The Bachelor reruns and easy romance reads (like when I’m editing!) but for now, when the work is new – a shoot just popping its head above the soil – I must protect my interior world.
Just like plants, timing is everything with books. You can’t fight a book; they will not grow if they don’t want to or if they feel you haven’t made enough room in your life for them. They will turn their back on you in an instant if they’ve been brought to life at the wrong time, in the wrong circumstances, when no care has been taken to prepare the growing medium.
There is no greater agony than trying to force a book into the world that truly does not want to live.