Harvesting Our Crops: Veggies & Stories

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Summer GardenIt’s a sunny, hot-hot-hot August day in Maryland. In the fullness of summer I find it hard to keep up with the tomatoes. And it’s almost impossible to write. Every other day I pull plump, ripe Romas off my vines and bring another 5 pounds or more into the kitchen to turn into sauce to freeze for the winter. It almost seems too easy, growing these ruby-red babies. My eggplants, cukes, squash and beans…well, I guess I’m not as good at cultivating those because we have no trouble eating them as they appear. Not even any leftovers to pass along to neighbors.

Whereas spring and summer are planting, cultivating, and harvesting times—the cold winter months are for writing. I finished a novel during a particularly intense blizzard, sent it off to my literary agent in early February. Knowing I’d need to wait to hear from her—first, as she waded through her submission pile, and then as acquiring editors at various publishing houses needed time to read the manuscript—I filled the time writing a short story. Sent that off to an appropriate magazine. And now I wait…and wait…and hope for good news and a contract.

Unlike with gardening, there is no guarantee these days that even a well-written novel will bloom into a published book. Competition is stiff, to be sure. Over the years, I’ve had as many stories rejected as published. What publishers perceive of as desirable to their readers often limits what they are willing to buy. Yes, self-publication is an option—and a very good one for some writers. But in my experience, the authors who fare best at creating their own books from scratch are those who are savvy (and tireless) when it comes to self-promotion. Sometimes, you can even find them at the top of bestseller lists—and I applaud them! But I admit that I feel more comfortable with a commercial publisher on my team—providing editorial guidance, designing a stunning cover, working with me to get my novels noticed by readers. To date, I can say I’ve been able to work with some of the best publishers and editors in the industry. I feel very fortunate. But I know that with each new book project I must again “audition,” and prove my worth.DSC_0003

It’s hard for new writers to understand that, unlike most other businesses, publishing fails rather miserably to offer authors a stable income. There will be no weekly paycheck. Ever. Signing with an agent doesn’t insure your book will sell to a publisher. Six-figure deals are daydreams tantamount to winning the lottery. But none of this will dissuade a real writer from telling his stories. We’re risk takers. Dreamers. And we have tales to spin, fantasies to weave.

I often compare gardening to writing in my blogs. Each pursuit is a creative endeavor in its own way. If there’s a drought or a flood that wipes out my seedlings…I can usually replant (as I did this year, twice) and still be rewarded with a decent crop. It’s a little harder emotionally for an author to come back from a round of rejections for her novel. But we can still replant. We will write another story because the imagination and talent that produced the story that didn’t harvest a publishing contract is still there, inside of us. The muse is just waiting for us to shake off the disappointment and begin again. So we shall.

It’s persistence that wins out. Never give up. The next story you write may be that very special one that captures readers’ hearts around the world.

 

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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What I’ve Learned About Writing While Gardening

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Inspiration

Inspiration

I garden at a community plot. One of the advantages of tending my veggie plants in a shared area—there’s nearly always someone else working on their plot at the same time. Usually, they are far more experienced then I am, so it’s a great opportunity for asking questions and learning something new. Moreover, I find that I can often apply a gardener’s wisdom to other facets of my life. Like writing.

My latest lesson involved sweet red peppers. I’ve never succeeded in growing them, but I so love their colorful, crunchy addition to my salads that I keep on trying. This summer, my tomatoes are growing in abundance and baseball-bat-size zucchini magically appear under nearly every leaf. But I’ve again watched helplessly as my pepper plants produce promising green globes that turn mushy and rot on the vine even as they start to ripen. Breaks my heart. <Sob!>

I’ve asked my neighbor gardeners what I’m doing wrong. They shake their heads in sympathy. One says: “Peppers like consistent watering.” Another is more philosophical. “Gardening is an experiment.” A third suggests, “Try putting them in the ground instead of a container.” But I planted in the ground last year; same catastrophic result.Summer Garden

I take away two messages from my failure at pepper growing. Don’t give up—that is, be persistent. And, if one thing doesn’t work, try something different.

What does this have to do with writing novels and short stories for publication? Or with life in general? Everything.

We often believe that, if we have a goal and work hard at it…we should expect to succeed. But in life, as with gardening, events over which we have no control may either enhance or stand in the way of our success.

For peppers, if the soil or weather aren’t right (or disease, vermin, or insects attack the plant), the plants may not develop healthy fruits. I can try to solve the problem, if I ever discover what it is. But I also might be wise to vary my crops in the hope of coming across another vegetable that I can successfully grow with a lot less trauma.

New writers often start out having a vision of a particular story. If that completed novel, novella, or short story doesn’t get snapped up by an agent and immediately sold to a publisher—the author may be tempted to either give up on writing altogether, or spend years agonizing over revisions of the same story. (I hear of this scenario from many of my students and clients who say they can’t move forward with their writing until they get this first book sold, even after working on it for as many as ten years.)

A senior editor at a major New York publisher once told me that her best advice to novice writers was to, yes, be persistent—work on your craft daily and keep submitting—but experiment with a variety of genres and styles of writing. Because we just don’t know what we’ll be good at. Aside from that, it’s impossible to predict trends or publishers’ buying patterns. What might not sell today could be the hottest property in four years!

Book shelvesSo…my thinking is this: I’ll endeavor to find the red pepper-growing technique that works for me, but I’ll also experiment with alternate varieties of peppers and other types of veggies. I’ll find more that I’m good at growing. And, if you’re writing stories but not having much luck getting publishers to notice you, I’d encourage you to continue pursuing publication of that tale that just won’t let go of you. But, every once in a while, experiment with a different genre. Instead of historical fiction, try a contemporary tale. In place of your usual literary style, try your hand at a fast-paced thriller or swoon-worthy romance. Play with a Western or science fiction or frolic in a paranormal world. Let your imagination and talent run free. Time and again, I’ve seen writers surprise themselves when they took a leap of faith and ventured into unexplored literary territory.

Besides, we can’t stand around forever, mourning those rotting peppers or underappreciated stories. We’re gardeners of words. We need to fully cultivate our creativity, our minds.

Happy writing, all! (And gardening.) Kathryn

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
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Gardening & Writing #mgtab

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Yesterday, while taking a break from writing, I checked out my little plot in our community garden. I thought how much creating a novel is like growing my veggies.

Garden

When I plant my tomatoes, squash, cukes and beans, I always have high hopes for a hefty harvest. I look forward to the delicious salads I’ll toss together within minutes after picking vine-ripened tomatoes and cutting crisp lettuce.

In a similar way, when I begin planning and working on a new book, I envision a finished novel that I’ll be pleased with. But—and here’s the big difference—I also want others to like my book, too. I want my readers to be intrigued, entertained, enthralled by the drama. I want them to find my story delicious. It’s no longer just about pleasing myself, it’s about pleasing other people.

In either case, I need to be realistic about my expectations for the outcome of my ventures—garden or book. The truth that all writers and gardeners must face is this—we can only control so much of the process of growing either a tomato, a flower, or a novel.

Flowers

I can water, feed, and protect my veggies from vermin and insects. But too much rain will drown fragile young seedlings, and a sudden hail storm may wipe out even the sturdiest vines. Likewise, I can develop believable characters, an exciting plot, and intense emotion in my story—but I can’t guarantee that readers will love my story as I do.

Is there a lesson here?

Perhaps it’s just this. Books and gardens are a lot like the rest of  life. There’s only so much we control. So we’ll continue tending our gardens with love, and writing to the best of our ability. And hope that the Fates (and our reviewers) will be kind to us.

Happy cultivating, of all kinds! Kathryn

Alicia Street

Alicia Street is a USA TODAY bestselling author and Daphne Award-winner often writing in collaboration with her husband, Roy, as well as on solo projects. She spent many years as a dancer, choreographer and teacher. A compulsive reader of every genre, she also loves watching old black-and-white movies and inventing new recipes for soups.
 View website

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