In this week's Storyteller's Inkpot post alum Donna Jones Koppelman* talks about how gardening and writing have a lot more in common than one might think.
One beautiful spring day last week, I got impatient about
planting my garden. Impatience turned to impulse, as if often does, and I
bought a rototiller! I love it. It’s petite as a hummingbird but does
the job like a bulldog. I love to plan my garden, plant my garden, tend
my garden, and harvest my garden, but many of those aspects of
gardening are vulnerable to conditions I can’t control—like weather.
Tilling up the soil is something I can control, and with my own
rototiller, I am unstoppable.
Gardening is a perfect metaphor for writing. I reflect on the
parallels as I wait for the seed of an idea to germinate, as I edit out
the weeds that impede the growth of my prize plant, and as I pray the
hailstorm of my insecurities don’t ruin that last chapter. So what is
the rototiller in this metaphor?
A rototiller prepares the soil for a luscious garden. It stirs
up all that’s hidden, so I can spot weeds, roots, and shells I couldn’t
see before. It makes my garden inviting. It beckons me to come and
plant, and I like to think well-tilled soil is a glorious, comfortable
place for tiny growing seeds.
In writing, my rototiller is my routine. My daily routine makes
my work space a fertile place for ideas to grow and blossom. I have a
friend who says she cannot write until her whole house is clean. That is
not true for me (or I wouldn’t have written a word in twenty years).
I just need a clean surface on my desk. I need white paper and a really
good pen. I need brushes and paints or drawing pencils close at hand. I
need my favorite craft book, THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield, from
which I read a chapter every day. I need a poetry book, from which I
read a poem every day, and lastly, I need a scented candle.
Whew. Sounds really neurotic, right? But the process of
gathering all these things and placing them just so gives my brain the
time it needs to shift from who is driving sports carpool to what story I
will tell today. Clearing my desk clears my mind. Setting up brushes
and drawing pencils signals my brain that it’s time to get creative.
It’s time for fun. Mr. Pressfield reminds me it’s time to WORK, and
poetry shows me that work should be lovely. Lastly, I choose a scented
candle with a smell that fits my work for the day. Smells are powerful
stimulants for my memory and thought process. I like to think E.B. White
chose a cotton candy scented candle to write those marvelous scenes at
the fair. Or maybe it was a pig scent? Or perhaps he had a completely
In graduate school, I studied routine in schoolchildren,
particularly homework routines. Students who followed the same routine
at homework time every day had significantly higher grades than students
without routines. They finished their homework much more quickly than
students without routines, so I know routines are effective.
What is your routine? Be intentional as you till up the garden
of your mind. Get the pesky weeds out of the way, so you can nurture
those good ideas. Harvest day will come.
Jones Koppelman graduated from Hamlin's Masters in Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2015. She is represented
by Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Trident Media, and she adores her new