Blogger: Michelle Ule sitting in for Cynthia Ruchti–who is coping with snow and power issues.
I paused while gardening one day years ago, to open a letter.
“How’s your writing going?” a dear friend wrote.
Lori penned her letter from San Francisco where she worked for Mother Jones Magazine.
I read her letter while sitting on a rock wall above my garden in Connecticut. My toddlers rolled around the driveway on their big wheels tricycles.
She meant her words kindly, but they pierced.
I had not planned my life the way it appeared to be going.
Like her, I had envisioned graduating from college, getting a job (hopefully involving writing or books), establishing myself in a career, and then entering the ranks of the marrieds with children.
Seven years later I lived on a rocky hillside in an old house where I tended my children and my garden on limited resources.
My Navy guy was usually out to sea.
I filled my daily life by writing letters to my husband and friends, reading books, and gardening.
And caring for the children, of course.
But how to answer Lori’s question?
Was there room for writing, gardening, and life?
On that warm summer’s day, a breeze blew through the trees and riffled the tender leaves in my four garden beds.
The carrots looked like blades of grass, the tomato leaves a gnarled leathery green. I needed to weed and thin.
(The robust zucchini, of course, wanted to take over.)
I needed to double-dig compost into the last bed to make the soil richer and better for growing plants.
Only then would it be ready for seeds, starts and, eventually, vegetables to feed us.
Preparing the soil was important.
The boys whizzed by on their plastic wheels, laughing and waving.
I glanced at the letter and then blew them a kiss.
I had gardening work to do, but also an idea to share.
“The writing will always be there, Lori, but I have more pressing matters right now.
I guess I see my writing life like a garden.
Now is the time to dig in compost, encourage worms, and nurture the soil.
One day, all will be ready.
I’ll toss some seeds into that fine garden bed and strong plants will grow.
I see this time in my life as digging the compost of experience into young soil.
One day, I’ll toss in the seeds of an idea; a book will grow and flourish from my life and experiences.
Until then, just living is enough.”
Remembering those words so many years later, I’m astonished I had such wisdom in my twenties.
How did my writing garden grow?
Our children–we added two more– grew up.
We lived such a rich life (thank you, US Navy, American taxpayers and more church members than I’ll ever be able to count).
I mulched my life with places, people, experiences and dreams. Gardens, too.
I have an unlimited source of stories.
I’ve dug the compost, the dead enriching matter, into my soul. From those challenges, words grew that reaped benefits for myself and for others.
One day the time was right.
The children were grown, my life had settled down. I could till the garden soil of my experiences.
It felt rich and dark and ready.
I received my first contract the very day we drove our youngest child to college.
The next day, I tossed the seeds of an idea into my computer. A novella grew.
And another, and another, and so forth.
Ten books in all at this point. All my writing dreams grew to fruition.
Every book used all those experiences, dreams, disappointments, children, a missing husband, and even some gardening. So many readers have shared their reactions to bless me.
It’s amazing what a few writing seeds will do.
And a life.
Thank you for that question all those years ago, Lori.
As always, I’ve got a little weeding, and writing, to do.
How does your garden grow to write a book? Click to Tweet
Writing, compost, gardening, and words. It’s all good. Click to Tweet
Tossing the seeds of an idea into the compost of my soul=10 books. Click to Tweet
Hearing about this letter never grows old (no pun intended). It’s very encouraging to me, because I’m in a similar place of mulching for the time being. Thank you Michelle!
You’re mulching much harder than I ever did, Elizabeth! And you’ve already produced a beauty or two. 🙂
Beautiful, Michelle. The writing is in the living. Until one day … the living is in the writing. You didn’t give up, but you knew what was important. You used the life you’d lived, and now, you get to live and share those experiences and so much more through your characters.
It made me a better writer and also gave me peace. As a commenter below notes, it worked well for me but may not be the road others are called to.
I just wish I could have trusted the Lord with my abilities back in those many years I felt so frustrated.
I’ve got the seed of a new project beginning to grow. Like my boxwood bushes, I think it will need a few years to fill out and take its final shape.
Thank you, Michelle, for putting descriptive words to a familiar process.
While I understand that everyone makes decisions based on their own circumstances, I have to disagree with the overall sentiment here. At least, the generalization that the decision to put off writing was somehow “wise”. No disrespect intended, but it was only what you chose to do. Others, in similar circumstances (life happens, after all), choose to get up 30 minutes earlier to write, or stay up 15 minutes later, or to use the kids’ nap time, or while waiting at the doctor’s office, etc etc. I wrote while putting in a brick patio for a sibling – no computer with me so I used a notebook and transcribed it all when I got home. And during those periods in my life when I wasn’t writing (for a variety of “life reasons”, none my choice), I missed it and wondered if I’d ever be able to start again.
So I guess the whole “wise” thing bothers me. That, and the seeming implication that went with it that it’s “wise” to wait until one is older to start writing, that one doesn’t have the experiences needed to write until they’ve “mulched” their lives enough.
Your decision worked for you. I could not have waited – frankly, my life at this later stage is as busy as it was when I was younger. People write when they decide to, and use all the experiences they’ve had and observations they’ve made up to that point. It doesn’t make them better writers, but it doesn’t make them lesser writers either. It’s just a different choice.
Your point is well taken Star. Author Robin Gunn used to get up at 3:30 in the morning several days a week to write and her books have gone far for nearly 30 years.
I didn’t include all the years of frustration in my post, :-), because I hoped to encourage writers that sometimes we need to live the life we’re in right now rather than yearn to be somewhere else doing something else.
Unfortunately, that was my angst for many years.
Once, I released it, life went better. I wrote, learned my craft better, read like mad and traveled with all those kids, and occasionally with my husband. That’s what I needed to do for my personality, gift, situations, and life.
I just wish I had trusted God to use the writing and thinking gifts He put into me. I would have been a more peaceful person!
Thanks for writing.
~~Beautiful. Just beautiful.
Thanks. I’m back in the dirt–of my garden and my manuscript–this morning! LOL
The dreams for which I thought to live
have passed away, and gone on by,
but life had so much more to give,
and there are times I wonder why
I did not see this all before,
the rich grand tapestry He wove,
gold woof and warp He held in store.
I bowed my head, and thus shrove
the ways of old dark avarice
unto a quickening of the soul
that could see a brighter bliss
now present in a life made whole
by His shuttle, deftly flying,
and new life did replace the dying.
Thank you, much needed today. Beautifully written : )
I love this, Michelle! It’s beautiful and a perfect post to keep around for when I think things aren’t moving fast enough.
Thankful, Tonya, if this can help.
Wendy L Macdonald
Thank you, dear Michelle, for this lovely memory-evoking post. I am an all-in gal. Whatever I’m doing at the moment is where my heart is.
When our family lived out in the country with our three children, whom I homeschooled, I was only able to write bits and pieces of devotional writing. My life was packed tight as it was.
Sometimes I felt like a failure when I noticed other moms who seemed to do it all: Write, public speak, and get published. But your post reminds me I was not only composting stuff for my organic garden, I was tucking away treasured lessons learned at our kitchen table.
Wise women do what God calls them to do and when He calls them to do it.
We’re not all created the same. Some seeds need a longer process to scarify them. It doesn’t mean they’re less than, it means they’re sown and grown when and where they’re supposed to be.
The right way is whatever way God places on each heart.
Thank you for this. I needed it.
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac
Very true, Wendy. Thank you.
Wendy Mac, you reminded me of all the different beautiful flowers … how they all require something a little different for proper growth on the instructions, but with the right ingredients, they bloom just as they were designed.
Wendy L Macdonald
Thank you, dear Shelli. 🙂 Yes. I have some peonies that need moving because the flowerbed they’re in has become too shady. The ferns and wood sorrel love it there.
Sometimes we need to change direction and location before we can bloom.
God’s got this. He hasn’t finished writing.
Janet Ann Collins
This is beautiful! Thanks for sharing it.
Blessings to you, Janet!
Linda Elliott Long
Beautiful thoughts and very true. I’ve wanted to write for decades (!) as my life journeyed on. Just now am I feeling close to the idea that something I’ve written will be published. Don’t have a contract, don’t have an agent; but I have faith and a vision. Thx for sharing.
Happy to have encouraged you, Linda.
I love this so much because I am also a gardener and I know about that tension in wanting to nourish both my plants and my writing. I am thankful to be at the stage in life now where I have a bit more time for both.
I read this blog often but rarely comment. I hope you won’t find me being here intrusive. It was a lovely visual post.
Happy to have encouraged you, too, Linda. Don’t you hate the thinning process? I don’t mind editing so much but pulling up those too-close-together seedlings . . .
Such encouragement! Thank you.
Beautiful reflection and rings true! Thank you, Michelle.
Beautiful… I get anxious sometimes and want to dash through tasks–or a story. But, that’s like going over rough, stony ground as quickly as we can, where we can miss a lot, or frequently trip up. Like Life, “dashing through” is never wise. Better to be patient; let the Lord plant us where He will, and bless us and others as we grow, learn, and hopefully, take joy in the journey while we give back.
Thanks so much, Michelle.