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Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Active and Fallow Periods in Writing

It’s mid-May in New England, and nature is delighting us Northern folk with flowering trees and shrubs, grass that is quickly greening, warm breezes, and signs of life in our flower gardens. 

With hours more sunlight in the mornings (and evenings) now, I wake each morning by 6:15 and throw on a baseball hat to get a 45-minute walk in around my neighborhood before starting my work day. The neighborhood streets are especially beautiful this time of year, with an abundance of trees putting on their best springtime frocks: pink crabapples, white dogwoods, magnolias in a beautiful blush shade. Not to be left behind, shrubs demand equal admiration: fragrant lilac bushes, cheery yellow forsythia, azaleas covered in lavender, red, pink, and white blooms, and rhododendrons getting ready to burst in a few weeks. 

On my return from my morning walk, I always take a few minutes and step into flower beds that ring my house, eagerly inspecting them. I see shoots pushing up from the earth and literally gaining an inch each day. I’ve got seven flower beds, each one a decent size. Though the beds demand a lot of attention during summer with weeding and pruning, it’s the spring that is the busiest as I rake away winter mulch blankets, fertilize, prune browned remains from the previous autumn, and haul out garden statues from winter storage. The prep required even before the beds can be freshly mulched for a new season is easily two full weekends of manual work. 

As novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling noted: “Gardens are not made by singing, ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.”
Image: Ann Kathryn Kelly

Ahh … but how well worth it, it is. By the second week in June, I’m fully enjoying the fruits of my labor, with overflowing flowers everywhere I turn. Anyone who gardens—flower or veggie—knows it’s a labor of love, and not for those who don’t want to get their hands dirty or wake with the occasional sore back and hamstrings. (This last point especially kicks in, with each passing year. Hello, fifties!) 

In the seven years I’ve been doing this—I averaged designing one new bed each year—I’ve invested hundreds of hours (and dollars) planning layouts, purchasing perennials and annuals, planting them, re-planting many in new spots when I found that a certain plant was not thriving and needed more sun or more shade, and of course weeding, pruning, weeding, pruning, dividing, replanting, pruning, weeding—ad infinitum. 

Can I get an amen on Mr. Kipling's quote? 

Know what else is a labor of love that requires as much patience as gardening to see the fruits of our labor? Writing. Instant gratification? Good luck with that. 

Neither cultivating mature gardens nor sitting down to write produces immediate and picture-perfect results. Whether it’s a prized perennial we’re tending, or an essay, fiction piece, or poem we’re trying to bring to life, both art forms demand patience. Both demand hours of love and attention. Both require learning from our mistakes and not being afraid to start over, to achieve the desired result. 

Plants have active growing seasons, but require times of dormancy. Writing, too, goes through active and fallow periods.
Image: Ann Kathryn Kelly

It’s the rest between bursts of energy that makes a garden—and a writing practice—sustainable. That’s the reminder I’m repeating to myself. 

What does this mean for my writing? Historically, I write a lot less during the summer. Because gardening and writing both require so much energy, I prefer to give my full attention to one pursuit, in order to do it well. Each has its season. As winter descends, I call up snapshots of my gardens in their glory (in my mind and on my phone) to help germinate new writing. 

What do you do, to help your writing germinate? Do you have a hobby that brings out the wonder and beauty in your writing practice? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! 

Ann Kathryn Kelly writes from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region.

1 comment:

  1. Ang: thank you! It's been a labor of love, sweat, and a few tears, mostly over the dang groundhog that comes back every year and feasts on my coneflowers. And then there are the neighborhood cats that keep rolling in and flattening my catmint. Argh! Having seen your illustrations, I can say that they bring so much depth to your published pieces! I'm thinking of "Girls Like Us" in particular! Oh, and the canyon drawings you shared with us in one of Naomi's CNF classes a few years ago. Stellar!


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