Carrots Love Tomatoes and Other Garden Literary Lessons

I’ve had a vegetable garden ever since moving into my current house. It was something I’d looked forward to for years—years spent in apartments without space or good balcony exposure or in our Florida home, where our available soil was basically sand with some dirt mixed in. Thus, when we moved to a large suburban house with a nice, light-soaked backyard, I couldn’t wait to get started.

That first year was pretty simple: one eight-by-four raised bed and a few containers for herbs and patio tomatoes. That summer included record heat (until the next summer shattered that new record), but we got quite a few tomatoes, basil and one perfect orange bell pepper in our first year.

The next year, our garden grew by two beds and two rain barrels. The year after that, we added raspberries and blueberries. And our container garden grew mostly because I couldn’t stop myself from buying nearly every single type of herb that caught my eye (three types of mint, three types of basil, two types of rosemary, etc.). Then we replaced the raspberries with blackberries, because apparently raspberries hate me (I went through six “unkillable” plants). This year, we did heavy adding yet again, putting in a bed for a Niagara grape vine and replacing our sad-looking blueberries with a raised bed of more locally appropriate elderberries.

So, what’s the point of me walking you through my vegetable garden virtually? Well, it has to do with writing, I promise.

About a year ago, I heard a very apropos quote, which I’m going to paraphrase here: Once you finish writing a book, you haven’t “learned” to write any old book, you’ve learned to write the one you just wrote.

Some manuscripts seem to write themselves. Others just seem to constantly be a struggle—in concept, writing, revision, etc. Every book is different, even if they have the same general starting point.

Just like a vegetable garden.

Some years, we get too much rain, other years, not enough. Some years, the bugs are out in force. Other years, they find someone else’s garden to much on. Some years, there are so many tomatoes, you’re giving them away. Other years, drought causes blossom end rot to zombify perfectly good, nearly done tomatoes. But every year we have the same basic elements—water, sun, soil, seeds and transplants.

Just like manuscripts, though, each go at the garden seems to turn out just a little bit different—nothing duplicated, no experience perfectly matching up with the knowledge you need the next go around.

Currently, I’m revising a manuscript that has given me fits and starts the whole way through. I love the concept and the characters, but for some reason, it’s been a struggle. Which is to say, it’s nothing like the last manuscript, which basically shot out of my fingertips fully formed.

And though this one is taking a little more time and effort to get just perfect, I’m fairly certain eventually it’ll be just as ripe and wonderful, and maybe taste even better that last year’s fruit. Not that this experience will help me with the next one.

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6 thoughts on “Carrots Love Tomatoes and Other Garden Literary Lessons”

  1. I love that metaphor, Sarah. We just put in (or started to put in) our garden for this year. And based on last year’s results, we’re changing things up again for (hopefully) better results – also not unlike starting that second manuscript, right?

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  2. I’m sitting here watching it snow in May, reminding myself why we make ourselves wait and wait to start our garden. The herbs and arugula have come back, and many of my flowers have nice, big buds which I hope survive, although the prediction is mid-20s tonight. I should have covered them, but it’s also the end of the semester and grading madness has descended.

    I have noticed what you say about books is true. The challenges can be different with each one.

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  3. Oh, Theresa, I’m so sorry about the May snow storm! Does it help that it’s rainy and gloomy here? Good luck with your garden, and anything new you’re working on, Mary!

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  4. Wonderful comparison, Sarah! And timely, too, with the freaky weather around the nation making gardening difficult for everyone. It’s time to try something new for our gardens as well as those pesky, difficult manuscripts!

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  5. I love this analogy! I just recently had to set a fits-and-starts manuscript aside in order to complete a different ms. for a different series. The new one is flowing like water. It’s true, you learn the lessons you needed to know to do what you just did. It’s almost Yoda-like wisdom (or Mike Brady).

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  6. What a lovely comparison! Very insightful, Sarah…great post. It was soothing, actually, given that I’m struggling with something right now. Maybe I just need to wait for a sunnier day.

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