Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 19, 2012

Growing a Book

Those first ideas are as small as seeds, which gardeners can scatter, while writers seem bound to dive after them into the ground. It’s not particularly pleasant under the earth, though with the right clothing, one can get along. Murk, muck, mud, lots of m words come to mind. But ideas grow in the dark, and that’s where I’ve been, hoeing, roughing up the dirt, letting the seeds spread, get lost, or nestle. Gardeners don’t expect all the seeds to grow. I never liked thinning out carrots, but this meant I got a lot of scrawny and twisted vegetables. It’s better to be brutal. And add manure.

At last I can get to my knees and watch something sprout, before hacking it down not long after the first glimmers of light. I’m still coming up with bad ideas and even okay ones that I’m going to pull out to make room for the best. So I wait, watch, and after some vigorous weeding, it’s starting to look like a garden. I mean a book. I just started a file called Chapter Four, along with a title I might change tomorrow, and will surely change before I’m ready to taste anything, never mind consider a basket for friends. Between pages, I change point of view, and not in a meta-fiction but just messy way. Images flash and burn out. Characters come and go and evolve, trying out and losing all kinds of traits. But I’m starting to fall in love with some, though I can’t forget to push them into hard places. After a bunch of ideas that didn’t sprout, there’s a sentence that I scribbled Ta da beside and haven’t deleted it yet. There’s still enough murk in these drafts that anything could happen, and I try to let that be good news.

In the manuscript garden business, we have to not just conjure the seeds, but the dirt and water and sunlight, so there’s bound to be a lot of words, and we’re bound to take most out. I’m practicing the gardener’s faith. The plot of ground doesn’t look like much. But things have grown from patches of dirt before, and they will grow again.



  1. Beautiful post, Jeannine. I recognize the terrain.

    But things have grown from patches of dirt before, and they will grow again.

    Yes, they will. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Thanks, Amy. Peter just brought home the turkey and cranberries. I hope you get time to just put up your feet and read.

  2. Love it! You are as much the dirt as the gardener, the good soil that is both forgiving and enabling.

    • Thanks, Sarah (and for the lovely long email — I’ll reply soon!)

  3. Beautifully stated. It is a messy business, this growing of books. Lately I find myself shoveling more manure than my garden needs. Hmm. Wonder what this says about my work?

    • Go gentle with that manure, Candice! But I know you get it all in balance in the end.

  4. Love this! I am growing my ideas in my personal journal which I started keeping in October. I knew I had to get away from the keyboard (where the temptation to edit is too strong) and write with a pen. There is something so freeing about writing with a pen even if the thumb goes numb after a time (now I know what Louisa meant!). I had to submit my monthly column to a website today and took the idea for it from something I wrote about in my journal. I hadn’t done any formal writing in about a month, having been buried in some books, and wondered if the words would come. It turned out to be one of the easiest columns I’ve ever written! Lots to be said for nourishing oneself with words.

    Digging in the dirt is something I would enjoy if I didn’t have to bend over to do it. Digging, pulling, pushing, mixing and fashioning ideas into something worthwhile and even beautiful can be hard, painful and soooo satisfying. I hear that in your post.

    • You sum it up well, Susan. Yes, at least the writing gardening doesn’t leave you with the backaches. And I don’t need gloves.

      Lovely to hear that working with a pen is working for you, aside from the thumb. And that time away brought some grace.

      • Thanks. The thumb is cool, I can “bond” with my favorite writer even more. 🙂

        • Okay, but I don’t want to hear that you’re starting to write with both hands. I think LMA would have loved our laptops!

          • Oh yes! I am a TOTAL klutz as a lefty! 🙂

  5. Jeannine, you always inspire me! I’ve been away from story writing for some weeks now, maybe a month even, and sometimes with these pauses I lose my way a bit. But being able to peek into your garden gives me a push to settle back into mine. And I can almost hear you whisper that a garden left alone is still teeming with life! Ah…thank you. 🙂

    And I love that ta da next to a sentence! Happy writing and happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Sending hugs on the west wind~~

    • Oh, absolutely, there is a time for gardens to be left alone. Amazing what can happen there without someone fussing. I hope you get back and uncover something tasty or bright!

      I had to write ta da when I felt my heart beat hard at a plot turn, then left it in my notes in case I do some too excited weeding and miss it. Plus it does make me smile at the memory of those essential little celebrations along the way.

      Sending hugs westward — happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: