How does your garden grow?

It’s summer in Indiana, and along with a ridiculous storm season and a disgusting surge in tick population, that means the garden is at full tilt. Tonight I had peas and radishes from the garden, and in the next several weeks we’ll be getting carrots, green beans, tomatoes, and green peppers. We’re already so sick of asparagus I’m giving it away to friends. (Next year I should have enough asparagus for the farmer’s market!)

I spent much of the afternoon weeding and cultivating. Along with the garden, I also have two mature apple trees and two grape vines, and we put out five more fruit trees this year. I have to spend a bit of time every week guiding the grape vines where I want them to grow. It’s a delicate process, and it has me thinking about how stories grow, and how writing is like gardening.

The novel I am currently preparing to query has been growing for twenty years. The characters have changed a lot over that time, and the story has grown more complicated and hopefully a lot stronger. I have had to pull quite a lot of weeds. (There is one character who now exists only as a minor character’s backstory; she was once a love interest for an almost-main character. I’m sure she would take issue at being called a weed, but when she was part of the novel, she choked out the almost-main-character’s role in the subplot–just as a weed sucks moisture away and chokes out the wanted plants.)

I’ve also had to do some selective pruning and transplanting. What was once a subplot of this novel has now been painstakingly cut out of this novel and saved to become its own novel. A lot of the elements will, of necessity, be different, because for one thing, the story will have to have a brand new antagonist introduced. Just as I spent part of today thinning out the basil pot and transplanting several shoots of basil into a new location, I’ll have to spend some time in the future finding a new home for that plot and those characters. But they are healthy characters and a fairly healthy plot, and they are worth saving.

Gardening is hard work. It involves a lot of sweat, dirt under your fingernails, back-breaking work, sunburn, and achy muscles. But the harvest is such an incredible reward. All through May we ate asparagus. All through June and July we will eat green beans, blackberries, green peppers, and radishes. All through August we will have lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. In September there will be squash and cantaloupe. In October we’ll have apples and shallots.

It isn’t free. But the rewards are worth it. Just like writing. Writing doesn’t come free. It costs time, grief, exhaustion, frustration, solitude, willpower, and sacrifice. It requires dedication. There are times I despair of seeing a beautiful, green, weed-free garden in my novel.

But when someone reads my work and says, “Yes, this is exactly right!” …Well, then, the harvest is all the reward I need.

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