Saturday, June 19, 2010

Writer as Gardener

The other day I made a salad from the first of this year’s lettuce. This particular lettuce was a bit special, because it was volunteer lettuce. For those who aren’t gardeners, “volunteer” plants are those that seem to sprout and come up on their own…useful plants that grow in neglected corners or pop up in the middle of cultivated rows. They’re beautiful, tasty surprises; the fruit of labor you haven’t actually performed.

But that’s not quite accurate, either. The lettuce that has scattered itself throughout the garden didn’t come there completely by accident, nor did it pop into existence from nowhere. (Mendel disproved spontaneous generation centuries ago.) In years past, myself and my mother scattered seeds and weeded and watered lettuce plants to produce leafy harvests. Hard work has gone into that garden. The volunteer plants—though they seem to come from nowhere—are really the result of that hard work in years past. The lettuce plants that so delighted us this year sprang from dormant seeds we had planted but long ago forgotten.

And why am I writing about volunteer plants on a writing blog?

Sometimes in a writing life, writers experience happy accidents…emails with work offers from seemingly out of the blue. Phone calls that display new horizons. Chance meetings that open previously closed doors. Often, writers see these things happen to other writers and get lettuce-green with envy. Why does she get all the good luck? we wonder. Why can’t I get a lucky break?

Why does volunteer lettuce grow in my garden but not in yours?

In writing, as in gardening, there is no harvest without labor, no vegetable that doesn’t spring from a seed. The seed may have been planted long ago and forgotten, but it’s been there, waiting for the chance to grow and bear fruit. If you can’t understand why you’re not getting any breaks, think about the work you’ve put into it. You don’t get long-term results in two weeks. You don’t get a harvest without planting and watering and weeding. You don’t get assignments without queries. You don’t get book deals without books…or, at least, book proposals. The query you sent out months ago may come back with surprising results, long after you’d given up and moved on. That won’t happen, though, if you never sent it in the first place.

If you’re serious about this writing thing, start examining your cultivation methods. Are you scattering seeds wherever you go, or are you sitting back and waiting to be “discovered”? If it’s the first, the harvest will come…eventually. The second isn’t likely to provide much lettuce, volunteer or otherwise!

So, what are you doing to cultivate your writing career today?

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