Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Writing Like a Gardener: Staggered Planting for a Continual Manuscript Harvest

by Sue Heavenrich

When I'm planning my garden, I think about how much room there is, what I want to grow, and how much time I have to devote to tending the plants. This involves drawing a rough garden map and a time table noting which vegetables go where, and when to plant the seeds.

I do the same thing with my writing. During January I collect ideas I might want to plant by participating in StoryStorm or other idea-gathering activities. Then it's time to get organized.

As with garden planning, I map out my writing season. How many story ideas can I realistically work on over the next year? Then I create both a digital folder and a paper file folder for each idea I want to explore. That file is where I toss in notes from preliminary research. For example, I check World Catalog to see whether there are books already published on my topic, and how many there are.

Before planting a crop, gardeners check their first frost date. In writing lingo, that's a "hard deadline", a definite harvest-by date. Writers have magazine deadlines, call-for-submission deadlines, or plans for extended leave from the desk. Once you know the deadline for a project, you can count backwards and determine that idea's "planting date".

Gardeners don't plant an entire season's-worth of salad greens all at once. We plant seeds for lettuce and beet greens and spinach every two or three weeks, so some seeds are germinating while others are growing and the oldest are being harvested.

Why not use this same strategy with our manuscripts? Begin with one idea, outline or map the story, and dive into research. Then write. As one gets to the point where it's ready to share with critique partners, plant the seeds for the next writing project. At any one time my writing garden (disguised as a semi-organized desk) has manuscripts at different growth stages: fleshing out the idea; actively researching; writing (flowering); feedback and comments; revising (ripening); and submitting.

Another thing I have learned from gardening: at the end of the season it's time to let the soil recover. That means covering beds with compost and a layer of leaves and letting it rest and restore. How can we do this with our writing? We could head out for regular "artist dates" to refill our creative cups (here are some ideas). Or maybe take a writing vacation - which works for a few days until my fingers itch to start scribbling in my notebook again.

If you're taking a mid-summer "get organized" break, check out this post from earlier this year. Here's another post from a couple years ago that presents more ideas on organizing writing goals.


  1. Love the extended metaphor of cultivating your wiring life like a garden. Thanks, Sue.

  2. Sue, thanks for sharing these thoughts -- I love the gardening metaphor. Even more than I love gardening. ;)

  3. This is a great way to think about it. looks like I've got some weeding to do.

  4. Yes! That's my problem! Feast or famine! A boatload of strawberries/sweet corn/peaches/plums or nothing. And recovery. I'm not good at recovery, either. I have lots to learn. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  5. Love the analogy, Sue! This is a wonderful way to reflect on writing progress & goals.

  6. As a gardener and a writer, I connect to this analogy, Sue. The first step for a story is to begin with a seed followed by a draft where I scatter my seeds. I continue to read and water my story until its time to harvest a final polished story.

    Thank you for sharing links to previous posts I wrote. I appreciate this writing garden post.

  7. Thank you, Sue, for sharing these thoughts. I'm in a holding pattern and need to think about my writing garden.

  8. I'd be ok, if it would RAIN! This drought is cutting into my 'work' time, as watering has become way to much of a first now. But, I'm rethinking how I can squeeze more out a drop than I ever did before. :)

  9. Love this, Sue! Looking at your writing like a garden, with all its seasons, needs, harvesting and pruning is perfect. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I learned about gardening and writing. Rereading earlier posts to remind myself helped also. Thank you.