Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gardening and Writing--Filling the Well by Following the Love

Last night, just as the moon was coming up (almost full!), I was out in the garden planting lettuce seedlings.

I started them from seed indoors in February:  three kinds of leaf lettuce--romaine, Tango, a French summer crisp.  I also started raddiccio seedlings, arugula, and spinach.  Today I will add
more seedlings to the waiting garden beds:  leeks, onions, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, celery.

This week, the garden is calling me very loudly.  So what's a committed writer to do?  Ignore one art for the other?  Or find a way to balance writing with other loves?

If I am listening carefully to my own self, to what I am pulled to not out of avoidance but out of love, I know I can't ignore either.  The garden is in prime planting time right now, and the weather has been seductive.  But even more, I know the balance of nature will benefit my writing.  It will "fill the well" by replenishing my creativity.  The images received from gardening tonight will be sources for inspiration for my writing tomorrow.

Most writers need to be refilled by other loves.  All art forms count:  painting, music, dance, cooking, gardening, any self-expression.  This need to be refilled is not procrastination if you're following the love.

A reader from New York wrote me last week about how to choose between all the art forms that call her.
"Today is set aside to work on a book that I'm making on the computer," she writes.  "I really want to get this finished as soon as I can because it's a book about a [favorite place] that is being forced out by re-development, and I want to give it as a gift to the owner with the secret hope that he will love it and will show it around and maybe other people will want one too.   So I want to get this done SOON.  HOWEVER, it's time to START WRITING.  So, I'm feeling that I must, after today, and maybe half of another day this week, push this project aside, and focus on writing (since I'm scheduled for a total of six writing classes this month).  Meanwhile, I want to get out and do some exercise before I sit in front of a computer all day, and then there's the matter of supper . . .   I spend HOURS AND HOURS just cogitating upon how to juggle everything.  But I can't seem to fit them all in without making myself crazy."

If you're on deadline, if you feel you should be doing something, you're in a different arena than following the love, of course.  It's duty, and it takes choice.  Two deadlined activities can't occupy the same time and space.  If I have a commitment to a project, I use my calendar and schedule it regularly in small bites until it is done.  This is the reality of working when you're not called to it, or when too many other things call that sound like more fun. 

But when I have a real choice, when I am not under deadline, I follow the love.  What do I feel love for, in this moment?  If I bring that love to the page, for example, my writing is not an hour or two spent in irritation and longing to be doing something else.  Here's how I do it: 

1.  Because my life is often very full, I commit to regular times for my creativity.  I use my calendar to set aside a particular time to write each day.  It is sacred time, as important as anything else I schedule.  I know that I write best in the early morning, before anyone else is up.  I write on a laptop which can be moved around to the quietest place.  Or in a notebook. 

2.  I set out my writing materials the night before, so they greet me first thing and remind me of my commitment.  I often open the chapter I'm going to work on and write a half-sentence, leaving it unfinished as an entry into the writing the next morning.  This technique is called "Linkage" and it's used by many published writers who know the difficulties of getting started each day.  

3.  When the unfinished sentence doesn't work, I know to warm up by freewriting for 20 minutes in my journal, picking a topic that's not my chapter but something that's been on my mind (similar to Julia Cameron's "morning pages" from her book The Artist's Way).  Or perhaps I'll freewrite about how I hate my book and hate writing in general and would much rather NOT be doing it at this very minute.  When I can't even budge my creativity from these tricks, I reread a chapter in Mark Levy's new book, Accidental Genius, on the benefits of freewriting, or I revisit chapter 4 on "Filling the Well" in my own book, Your Book Starts Here. 
4.  Before I schedule the week's writing time, I sit down with family and work commitments to make sure my need to "follow the love" is not going to interfere with childcare, making supper, or other promises I've made.  I don't leave it to chance, because in the heat of responsibilities, I will usually give up my writing time in favor of family harmony.  It always feels burdensome to schedule creativity but I've learned the hard way. 

5.  When the writing flow begins, I always make sure my email program and Internet browser are shut down (or better yet not available on the computer I'm on), because if I stall out I know I'll check email (or even Facebook if I get really stuck)--and that's the end of the precious writing time. 

6.  Finally, I allow myself to fill up on unexpected images.  Gardening by late evening light, when the sun is slipping over the mountains, gifts me with heart-piercing images.  These images will stay with me until the next morning when I sit at my computer and begin a scene about my characters talking on the lakside dock in late spring as the moon is coming up. I trust that each art form feeds another. 

This week's writing exercise might seem counterintuitive, especially for anyone who believes all they really need is more discipline to get the writing done.  Actually, to paraphrase John Lennon, all you need is more love.  If you follow the love, your writing might just respond.  So it is for me.

Your Weekly Writing Exercise
1.  Write a list of 25 things you really love in your life.  Circle the top three.

2.  Find your calendar.  Are these part of your week?  Even your month?  If not, why not?  

3.  How can you follow the love and bring one of these into your life right now?

4.  Use this well-filling activity to replenish your creativity, and see how it affects your writing. 


  1. Great post, Mary. I can relate to the gardening/yardwork conundrum...certain things just need to be done at certain times (especially in May!) It's important to have a balanced attitude about it...and I really like how you say "Follow the Love." It's all good, isn't it?

    PS. Your new book is terrific!

  2. Thanks, Cindy! A friend suggested that concept, to follow the love, and I now can't imagine living without it.

    PS Glad you like the new book!

  3. I stumbled on your post and was surprised by the gardening connection. I am a full-time technical writer and am in the process of editing my novel and wrestling with all the do's and don'ts that are thrown at aspiring authors who blog. In so happens I am an avid gardener, cook, and so on--in other words, I have a creative streak I don't quite know how to corral. I see that you have very successfully done this on your blog. As I'm trying to get my legs in this digital world we live in, I'm constantly battling this notion that I have to focus on a niche. I just can't. I see everything in colors and tastes and sounds and I want to capture what I experience in words, photos, sketches, whatever means of expression comes to me. So I look forward to following your blog and learning from you. You are definitely an inspiration.

  4. Thanks Mary, love this post. Sounds like something I could use right now.

  5. Thanks, Scheherazade. This week's topic seems to have struck a chord with several readers. I think so many of us struggle with the creative juggle. It's good to discuss this in a community of like-minded souls.

  6. Perfect timing for me to read this! I find we have much in common, Mary. :-) My garden is calling out its siren song, the novel needs to go out on submission, and I'll be hanging my first painting show at the local library this weekend. That's a whole lotta love clamouring for my attention. Though the days aren't nearly long enough, all my creative passions seem to fuel each other. But it's true (especially in May, as Cindy said) that it's hard to know what to focus on. Because with each of these creative paths (and I forgot to mention cooking!) focus is needed to truly be fulfilled by each endeavor. I try to float between each passion filling from one so I can give to another, while feeling utterly grateful for an abundance of creative loves. (Confession: it's take a long while to get to this place in my life.) Thank you for your soul-filling blog posts and great modelling of a creative life. (And sorry for the too-long post - I'm new at this.:-))

  7. I just came in from the garden, April, and read your comment--thank you so much for all you said. It's certainly a floating between passions that I experience too.

    OK, back to spreading manure so good things will grow!