My vegetable garden has inspired me throughout the years as a writer. Amending the soil, is like enriching the language in revision, or coming up with rich ideas as foundation for story. Planning the garden out, making sure the tallest plants don’t cast shade on the others come mid-summer, is like planning structure. Making sure to plant vegetables and herbs I eat–that’s like making sure everything in a novel has a purpose and serves the existing themes (you really wouldn’t plant celery if you had zero intention of eating celery, right? And you really wouldn’t create a character who didn’t serve the story, right?).
The occasional pest, like gophers, is another painful lesson: for a year I let that gopher live, and that gopher ate everything in my garden (it pulled down my tomato plants, it pulled down my chamomile, my dill, every broccoflower, pea plant, carrot and radish). I couldn’t bear to kill it, but in the end, I had to for the sake of my garden; I had to kill my darlings, as every writer must do. Every year, the garden, in addition to nurturing my body, teaches me a lesson.
At first, I unleashed one of my wiener dogs (the one with the hunting prowess and loves to roll around in dirt, not the one who doesn’t like to get dirty) to hunt it down. Scarlet the Wiener Dog had a lot of fun pinpointing its location and unearthing its many underground tunnels (did you know that dogs don’t close their eyes when digging underground? She emerged with very irritated eyes):
But in the end, it was I, the gardener, who had to take matters into my own hands. Because the wiener dog never actually found the gopher, I set the trap. Writers have to do this, too. We have to take matters into our own hands; we cannot hire a proxy.
Now this year: volunteers. Volunteer plants are plants that grow on their own, without intent, blown in by the wind, or dropped by a bird, or as is most likely the case of mine, it’s mixed into compost that is introduced into the garden before the seed has broken down.
I admit: last year, before I got a compost bin, I got rrreal lazy and threw vegetable bits straight into a corner of my garden. So the reality is that this vegetable is likely one that I have eaten before–perhaps it is grey zucchini? Or a melon? I hope it’s summer squash and not winter squash–I’d hate for it to interfere with my triamble squash seeds (as I understand it, two different winter squash plants will cross pollinate and produce seeds that are not “true”).
Now this post is twofold:
- I am wondering if one of my dear readers can tell me what this volunteer plant might be (the one pictured above and at the top of this post). Is it a summer squash like I suspect? Perhaps a grey zucchini?
- To talk about volunteers as a metaphor for writing.
I wrote the first draft of my novel, and at times it was tedious, like pulling teeth from my characters. Putting words down just to get the words down, in what felt like the most unnatural progression. This part of writing is dreadful; like knowing I’m getting more lost by the minute, like walking into the WRONG part of the forest or getting off the wrong offramp. But I kept going because sometimes you have to put down the shitty words before you get to the good stuff. (I have to believe this, people).
But! When it went WELL–I felt the words flowing. When it went REALLY WELL, I felt delighted and surprised, sometimes even going as far as to laugh out loud. REALLY laugh out loud at what spontaneously appeared; whether in funny dialogue or stunning character action. This did not happen as often as I’d like, but it did happen–and it almost always felt spontaneous. (Here’s the irony: I sit and plan and plan and sit and write and write and plan in order to achieve that moment of spontaneity).
That feeling of spontaneous inspiration? It’s like a volunteer plant. Despite all that actual planning, I didn’t plan for it to exist (though it’s very welcome), and in some way, it feels like it was planted there by the Muse/G*d/Fate/Wind/Bird/Compost. I don’t know what the volunteer inspiration is going to turn out to be, but I let it grow, out of curiosity and delight, and because it FEELS right. And oftentimes, that’s the best part of writing, and the best part of story.
Now I have to nurture the plant, and identify it to make sure that it grows well, and that it fits into the scheme of things. I’m going with it.
What has popped up in your life and writing that was unexpected? And what did you do with it?
And um, what IS my volunteer plant? Do any of you know?