garden in a heat wave

Writers create. We give life to characters, build our own worlds. These days, I’ve found the greatest comfort in activities that involve giving life.

Gardening, for starters–an activity that helps me feel productive without cognitive challenges. I can turn my brain off and still create. And somehow, this garden is providing all kinds of metaphors for my life these days!

I’m making revisions on my garden, pulling out rue (for as simple a reason as, “I changed my mind”). I’m filling in gaps, finding more plants to lay down in structure gaps–I’m even planning ahead, wondering if I will run out of carrots halfway through the season (so I should plant some more a few weeks later). I’m spending lots of time imagining what to do with the plants once they take root and bloom and unfurl and all the things that vegetables and herbs do.

You are always working on a vegetable and herb garden–it is a living, breathing thing that has some level of predictability but is entirely unpredictable. Aphids might attack. Ladybugs might come to their rescue. The weather might turn too cold. Something might be mysteriously eating your basil seedlings (really, something is eating my basil seedlings!).


Same with life, same with my writing, same with story.

I rewrite too. I got nearly halfway through my novel last year when I hit a wall. I had written the thing in first person, the very introverted narrator telling us the story through his narrow eyes. The story became narrow, when really it was way more expansive.

Why did I write it in first person?

Because it was, uptil that point, my most comfortable vantage point as a writer. And then I realized that the story had to be told in another, more expansive perspective. I switched to third, learning new points of the craft as I wrote, unearthing parts of the story long buried and invisible.

This week, I learned via Pinky’s Paperhaus that Michael Chabon rewrites, too–and in his case, he re-wrote The Yiddish Policemen’s Union in third after having written it in first:

On the difficulties of writing the book: Was originally in first person but “the main character is a bigmouth … can’t shut up … a yenta,” which worked against his wish for a simpler, Chandleresque style … He dumped the entire 660-page draft (to gasps from the audience) … which “can be hard” … he “had a sick feeling while saying goodbye – but more often than not” his stomach guides him, pointing to what’s right … Can physically feel it in his stomach when the writing doesn’t work … An entire character from Kavalier and Clay – Sammy’s sister – was removed after much lavish attention … Can live with it because “There’s always more where that came from.” … First draft was a “complete disaster” and chucking it was due to the notes of thoughtful editor, to which Chabon replied “The whole thing is fakakta.”

In his case, he re-wrote the entire novel. I wonder if he has a garden, too.



Filed under Life, The Novel, Writing

5 responses to “creation

  1. Tea

    Garden is a huge metaphor for life I think. Every winter I prune the wisteria at my mother’s house for her and think about how sometimes it’s important to trim parts of a life to be able to focus on other parts, to have the energy for them to flourish. It’s a little bit like painful editing, killing your darlings to create a bigger, stronger whole.

    I can’t wait to see how things begin to bloom for you!

  2. mel

    Great analogy, jade (and tea!). Reading about your garden and novel is inspiring.

  3. Kev

    Your words about gardening brought a smile. I think sometimes writing can involve a lot of thinking, but gardening is doing without analysing in quite the same way. Drawing or music can be the same, you do more than you think. Not that writing sometimes cannot be a process where it just flows, but there is a lot of consideration involved which is not just about putting words on the page.

    I have the kind of gardening nous that means that plants are more likely to turn brown that thrive from my attention, but I looked at the picture of your garden and I thought “yes, please, I could do with some of that”.

    As regards first person. If you will permit me, I will tell a story from the other end of the scale. I had never written in the form until recently. I think I actually had a rather snobbish idea about first person as being an easy way out or some other daft notion.

    I was working on a piece that had really grabbed me, a novel, but the writing just would not move forward. Then one day I sat down and just wrote a few pages in the first person perspective and this character suddenly started to explode on the page.

    The thing was, she needed to tell her story in her own words, she wasn’t having my third person haughty god view of her goings on. It was her and her words, or nothing. It was frightening how real and how separate from my big ideas of the novel her emergence had become. There she was, bigger and bright and clearer than my initial imagination. It was quite humbling really.

    It was the character herself who decided it. The the darn honest truth about characters seems to be, that whatever you think you have on them, they ultimately call the shots.

  4. whether gardening, or writing–it is essential to feel i’m creating something. it makes me feel like i have a hand in the universe, somehow. yup. 🙂

    kev–interesting! i have run into many writing peers who have a preference for either 1st or 3rd (not so much, 2nd) person. some writers feel that 1st person is super challenging, and other writers cringe at the 3rd person. like you have discovered, the story and characters themselves dictates the voice, in the end. 🙂

    which of course brings me back full circle to the whole “having a hand in the universe”–in the end, the things you create run away from you.

  5. Pingback: in which I march (haha, get it? March…) forward « Writing Under a Pseudonym

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