13 valuable creative lessons inspired by gardening

I’ve been getting my hands dirty in the garden recently and pondering the overlap between two of the activities I love – gardening and writing – although I think the analogies are true for creativity generally. This ties in well with this year’s blog theme of what we can learn about creativity from the world around us.

So what can we learn about creativity from gardening?

(with pix from our garden a labour of love!)

Herbs © 2014 Jacquie Garton-SmithHerbs © 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith
  1. Timing is important

You must do what needs to be done when the time is right. In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes eloquently about creative ideas passing if you don’t take them up. No point sowing your seeds in the wrong season, although you needn’t lie idle either …

  1. Prepare your ground

Gardeners won’t need to be convinced of the benefits of fertile soil and a fertile mind is a great start for creatives (for some ideas, see Learning from the creative inspiration around us)

Retic going in © 2013 Jacquie Garton-SmithRetic going in © 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith
  1. Prepare your plot

I’m not saying you must strictly plot your story, although that works for some. What we do need to do is set up a supportive environment – where the gardener may set up a sprinkler system, a raised garden bed, supports for creepers or fence off an area, so a creative must establish what’s needed to support their creative work and put it into place.

  1. Plant your seeds

If you don’t get your seeds in the soil, they won’t grow. What we plant is nothing like what we end up with – and so it is for us creatives. Just start with your idea and see what grows. If your ideas come to you at inconvenient times, make a note of them so you have them for when the season is right. If procrastination is your problem, The power of naming procrastination may help.

Plum tree terrace viewed lengthwise © 2004 Jacquie Garton-SmithPlumtree terrace viewed lengthwise © 2004 Jacquie Garton-Smith
  1. Nourish your seedlings

As our plants need regular water and periodic fertiliser (some more than others!), so our creative ideas need encouragement. And too much love can have its issues – much as overwatering or over-fertilising is unwise, try not to overwrite, overpaint or over-torture your creative idea. Just get it out and let it grow.

  1. Protect new growth

Those precious shoots do need protection from all kinds of insults. Where our shrubs may need protection from pests and diseases, heat and drought, frost, wind and storms, animal attack, so sometimes we need to protect our fledgling creative work from self-doubt and wrong turns, mistakes (they are okay – they can take you in new directions), the opinions of others (this can be particularly destructive on early work which, let’s face it, will always need to evolve) and withering enthusiasm, interruptions and excuses. If finding the time to be creative is a challenge, check out When push comes to shove – juggling priorities in a time-poor world.

Plum tree terrace viewed ten years later front on © 2014 Jacquie Garton-SmithPlumtree terrace ten years later (front on) © 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith
  1. Train into the direction or shape you want

Many plants benefit from encouragement in the right direction. I’ve been known to laboriously and repeatedly twist creeper shoots around supporting structures or fences and to hang part-filled bottles to tree branches to train them where I want them to go. I commissioned several garden designers to draw up plans for our garden, none of whom could see their way around the easiest and cheapest way to what I wanted, before one encouraged to me to design it myself (and gave me great advice which helped us achieve it and more). We creatives do need to be open to the journey our creative work wants to take us on and there are times we need to take charge of our project and direct it where we want it to go. You’ll know when you have the vision you need to do this.

  1. Fear not a good pruning

It took me a long time to learn to prune with confidence in the garden and (surprise, surprise) also in editing. If unsure, start gently, review and then trim a bit more, and repeat again and again until done. Luckily in writing and many other creative pursuits, the benefits of a healthy prune can usually be seen instantly in your shining work where in the garden, it can look seriously brutal until the plant reshoots. But it must be done for a better result.

Cornelia Weeping Rose © 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith Cornelia Weeping Rose © 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith
  1. Try new things

I do like a fairly traditional garden which goes very well with our 1914 home, but trying new things can be great fun in the garden, be it new varieties, different combinations or new techniques. I’m a sucker for new varieties of plants. Some work, some don’t but that’s part of the fun. New combinations of plants can really freshen up a garden bed. And I like to keep abreast of new approaches to gardening. Worm farming was very new when I started and has been a fabulous addition to our garden, reducing our use of conventional fertilisers to nearly nothing and using up most of our kitchen waste to boot. What does all of this have to do with creativity? Try weaving some new and different approaches into your creative project and see if they sing. If they don’t, see 8 …

  1. Fads come and go but the basics never fail you

The “right way” of doing things is often the best. Whether it’s the basic gardening skills or techniques, solid equipment or the old favourite plants, they will carry your garden to achieve its full potential whatever the trends. As will good artistic/musical/dance/writing/culinary/(insert your creative passion here) techniques, materials and equipment. And you don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune or study at university to develop these.

Rosebuds © 2014 Jacquie Garton-SmithRosebuds © 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith
  1. Celebrate every beautiful moment

Yes, that empty plot that’s been dug over, soil built up with seeds planted and watered in may not look like your dream garden but it’s a huge achievement in itself. Same with that early painting, sketch or tune, or draft storyline or scene. Enjoy every stage of the process. You deserve it.

  1. Know when to yank out your plant (or even the whole garden bed) and start afresh

It can be heartbreaking but also liberating – why struggle on with something that is not going to deliver or is past its use-by. You do need to be sure it’s not that periodic falling in and out of love with our creative work that naturally happens, but when the time comes to free yourself up for something better, celebrate that stage too.

 Cherry Tomatoes finishing © 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith
Cherry Tomatoes finishing © 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith
  1. Lying fallow

Paddocks benefit from fallow periods – do we? I think so and I’ve written about my experience with this in Is it a dreadful mistake to take a break from writing?

 

I’m sure the list could go on …

Do you have any gardening/creativity analogies to add?

Have you found one or more to be particularly useful?

Please feel free to comment below.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+.

Disclaimer

© 2016 Jacquie Garton-Smith (text and all images)

Embracing Creative Input from Others

If you want people to read your writing, it is inevitable that people will actually have to read your writing … Stating the obvious, I know, and yet so often we write in isolation, perfecting every comma of a manuscript no one has seen.

And yet the process of seeking feedback, while infinitely valuable, can leave us feeling vulnerable, exposed to our creative core. And while feedback can be gold, working out what to take on board and how, and what is less important (or even misguided) is crucial to delivering a work of creative integrity, a unique expression of its creator.

While feedback can be gold, working out what to take on board and how, and what is less important (or even misguided) is crucial to delivering a work of creative integrity, a unique expression of its creator.

This little bird hiding in her nest in our plum tree reminds me of what we creatives often do ... © 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith

This little bird hiding in her nest in our plum tree reminds me of what we creatives often do …
© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith

I have been extremely lucky while writing and editing my current WIP to have been encouraged and supported by both gifted writers and avid readers who have been so very generous with their time, kind, patient, insightful, astute, intelligent and sincere.

Keeping in mind my own positive experience, I have been reflecting on what has worked for me during the (quite frankly terrifying but also exciting) experience of opening my WIP up to input from others, and indeed, making the most of feedback offered on any venture or project.

Taking on board creative feedback:

  1. Be open to both positive and negative feedback.

    I have a habit (as many of us do) of focusing on what didn’t work so well, to the point of not hearing what people thought was good. What does work is equally valuable so that you know what the strengths are, so that you can bring them out further, and so you know what not to lose and why … especially if conflicting opinions arise. Even neutral feedback can be worth attention to improve your WIP.

  2. Be curious (not defensive).

    Even accurate and constructive comments can be crushingly disappointing. Listen carefully and ask questions so that you can better understand the feedback.

            Do you know what made you feel that way?
            Can you put your finger on why?
            Do you have any idea what might work better?
            How do you suggest I approach it differently?

  3. Look for underlying issues.

    Sometimes feedback doesn’t totally gel because the problem is a symptom of another issue. I find this particularly when I am offered solutions that don’t sit right. (see 2 – if you have fully explored the feedback you will have a better chance of working out what needs to be resolved.)

  4. Especially listen to repeated themes.

    One person might be wrong, but if you hear something similar from multiple people, that is a strong sign you need to pay close attention. Be open to the different ways this feedback may manifest in variations on the theme.

  5. Let advice percolate.

    The tendency is often to rush in excitedly to fix things. All good for a straight-forward fix.

    But for more major changes, think them over, sleep on the suggestions (more than once if needed) and re-visit the feedback. Let your subconscious do some of the work. If still unsure, ask more questions to further clarify or run past other reviewers what they think.

  6. Be excited.

    Having the gift of another’s perspective to help guide you is incredibly precious. (For more on excitement as a strategy in writing see my post “Is excitement a new strategy for writers?”

  7. Give it a go.

    Even if you aren’t sure, test it out. For example, for writing:

    • Copy and paste a chapter into a new document and have a play – liberally delete, add to or switch around.
    • Print that section, mark up the problem areas and scrawl over it with your ideas.
    • Pick up a pen and scribble out a new version for fun.

No harm done if it was better before, you can go back to your earlier version more confident that you have explored other options. But you may be blown away by what you discover.

  1. Seek further feedback on changes.

    The pendulum can swing too far the other way. Or maybe one change creates or exposes another problem. Or maybe you didn’t quite nail it.

  2. Log all feedback.

    As your WIP evolves, it can be useful to revisit feedback on earlier versions to see if on reconsideration and after further gestation, you come up with additional ideas.

    Also keep old versions of your WIP in case you change your mind and want to reinstate something or even just revisit to remind yourself. An accomplished writer friend, Louise Allan , suggests keeping deleted scenes in case you decide to repurpose them into another body of work – what a great idea!

  3. Identify when to dismiss feedback.

    The ideas above are geared towards working with feedback from people who have valuable insights. Sometimes you will decide well-intended feedback doesn’t gel and that’s okay. It is your creative work, not theirs.

    If feedback (invited or otherwise) is destructive, it can be excruciating, especially if from someone you care(d) about or trust(ed).

    DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT DESTROY YOUR WORK. And DO NOT let negative feedback destroy you.

    You will still need to deal with your own reaction to the feedback and may still find some of these tips helpful in gleaning something useful from what they have said, or in evaluating their feedback to determine that it is not helpful.

    And it is all the more important to be open to the feedback of those who can offer valuable input, as this will give you perspective when faced with those who shoot down your creative development.

 

Without exploring the logistics of who to ask for feedback, when or how, these are some of my reflections on strategies that have helped me to handle feedback.

Do you think any of these tips are (or might be) helpful?

Do you have any other useful tips that you’d like to share?

Please feel free to comment below.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+.

Disclaimer

© 2016 Jacquie Garton-Smith