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.
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!
So…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