Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Zucchini vs. Butternut Writing and Other Garden Goodies

by Rachael Phillips
Having repented of last year's neglect, I decided to give substantial attention to my garden this summer. I did so partially because of writing reasons. Last summer, I held myself to a do-or-die deadline. I wrote all day six days a week and sometimes seven. Mornings, I didn't fuss with my hair or brush my teeth until I accomplished my word count. I rarely stuck a toe outside. While this bordered on OC behavior, at least, I didn't follow the writing credo of another morning person: having awakened, she did not allow herself a first visit to the bathroom until she'd written 500 words.
Bladder infections aside, there is something to be said for single-mindedness. I met my deadline and felt good about the quality of the resulting work. But I missed breathing the summer morning air, fragrant and fresh as if God just created it. (Sizzling melt-the-blacktop afternoons don't inspire me; they remind me of Hades and Nevada.) As the summer progressed, I often found myself at a writing standstill, hovering around windows like a kid who'd been grounded for life. By fall, my brain felt dusty, cobwebby and empty as a deserted barn.
I decided this summer would be different. Most early mornings find me digging and weeding in my garden or flowerbeds for an hour. A price must be paid for such radical rebellion. My creaky fifty-something body begs for mercy. Plus, I do find meeting my daily word count a challenge without those first fertile sixty minutes of the writing day. Still, I think the benefits outweight the time deficit. After hoeing, weeding and raking, my body sighs with relief when I sit down with my laptop. Eager green tendrils of thought--some related to writing projects and others a continent away--grow and flourish in my new-found freedom.
For example: this morning, as I raided my squash patch, I marveled at the differences between the growing habits of zucchini and butternut. Zucchini plants don't grow vegetables; they give birth to them. They remind me of my most prolific writing days. Ideas pop into my mind, fully fleshed out, and words leap from fingers to the page as if I'd received a gigantic dose of literary Miracle-Gro. However, after a while, they all start to look and taste alike, no matter how I disguise them. Butternut squash is a different matter. Only a few funny curved miniatures poke out of languishing blossoms. They grow very slowly, and a gardener wonders if she'll see the next millennium before these things ripen. Covered with vines, they often slip from memory. But eventually, they mature, offering distinctive flavor that developed only because they absorbed days and days of sunshine, rain and irrigation that shot my water bill through the ceiling. Butternut writing requires similar patience. A character may take numerous drafts to ripen. A sub-plot that grows in obscurity finally appears at just the moment your story needs it.
By now, a few of my readers may feel lost ("Um, did I stumble on a vegetarian blog?") But I hope these fresh-from-the-garden observations encourage other writers to discover unrelated pastimes that release them to create. Mine happens to be gardening. My agent, Wendy Lawton, makes pottery. Camy Tang, a multi-published writer, knits. What hobby or activity spurts fresh juices back into your writing?


  1. I was actually craving a salad when reading this. Great post!

  2. Riding my motorcycle. It's not as green as a garden, but it clears the cobwebs. Great post! I enjoyed every delicious word.

  3. Thanks, guys. Karla, I'm much less dangerous in a garden....