Honing the Harvest…

Listen. Do you hear that? The rustling of autumn grasses, the chirring of locust wings, the goodbye calls of flocking birds as the earth turns to bounty and binds itself to a new season. I have spent the summer planting, tending, filling the freezer with vegetable goodies, preparing for the months when the soil slumbers. As I put my garden to bed, the fertile blank spaces of my writing await a different kind of harvest…words, phrases, plots, themes and, above all, hope.

This month I send out queries for my newest manuscript, one I have weeded with special care, watered with conviction and fertilized with research. Now, I must offer it to others, this lovely growth of stem and flower. Like a table filled with farm produce at the market, my wares will splay themselves on someone’s desk, waiting to be purchased, shucked and served to hungry readers.

Okay, that paints a pretty picture, but it fails to reveal all the sweat equity invested in both my literal and my figurative garden. I’ve removed the props from my beans and tomatoes, chopped the once-laden plants into mulch. So, too, I’ve gathered the fruits of my prose, inspected them for insects and blight, stored the notes and revision cards, and practiced patience, perhaps the most important tool in the gardener’s and the writer’s box. I have also cultivated my writers’ groups, who protect, support, defend, nurture and prod me to go on. The willingness of fellow writers to critique, inspire, suggest, encourage cannot be overstated. Without them, my writing would never flourish.

I don’t know where you are in your writer’s garden. I do know that in the soil garden, there are blights and insect deprivations and too much heat, too much rain. With writing, there is always a lack of time or attention or inspiration or focus. Yet the planting goes on, so we can reach the harvest, savor the bounty and hone our harvest skills for the next great adventure. Prepare the soil, lay the compost and wait for the seeds to sprout.


A Gardener’s Guide to Writing (part II)

Status update: I’m feeling quite Juney these days. June bugs by the porch lights…Juneteenth celebration upcoming…anniversaries of June weddings…even the June-ipers are blooming with berries (okay, that one’s a stretch, but the observation is true!). The raised garden beds rendered a fine crop of cool-weather spinach and lettuce. Now those plants are wilting, while the peas hang heavy on their stalks, the carrots and green onions are sprouting and the tomatoes…well, they’re just getting started. To everything, as the Bible says, there is a season.

Ideas are like seeds, surprising in their appearance, responding to the proper stimulus, reaching toward the sky when well-established. With careful tending, each will blossom and bear fruit. But sometimes the terrain is just too inhospitable, the winds too strong. Sometimes they just fall on rocky soil. Past performance is not the measure of future yield.

In my Documents file and in folders stashed in my file cabinet, I have pages filled with titles and opening lines and plots. This is my secret seed bank, stockpiled against the Armageddon of writer’s block, although if I’m being honest, that has never been my problem. Rather, I have an overabundance of stories, far too many to cultivate now. Too little time, too little space. Just like in my garden, I’m forced to cull the crops. If I leave all those little carrotlings growing, not a one of them will become a full-grown carrot. So, too, with my tales.  For ideal harvest, I must doom some to oblivion so that others may persevere. Truthfully? I lean heavily on faith. What else explains my willingness to believe  that the tiny seed in my hand/head, buried in the dirt of my garden/imagination will actually give rise to something wonderful?

How do you select the best kernels to sow? I examine my ideas for size and weight and viability. The shriveled, the half-husked, the runts I toss or combine with other, sturdier seeds. Such specificity may mean I overlook the one prize-winner among them, but I can’t dwell on might-have-beens. Like the seeds that flourish, the stories that thrive and grow and produce the best result are those I have chosen, cherished, tended and plucked at their peak moments. Good writers, like good gardeners, know that they are at the mercy of the elements — some plants/tales just don’t make it to the table.

Happy planting!