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-Smith
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 …
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-Smith
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.
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.
Plumtree terrace viewed lengthwise © 2004 Jacquie Garton-Smith
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.
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.
Plumtree terrace ten years later (front on) © 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith
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.
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
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 …
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-Smith
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.
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
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.
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© 2016 Jacquie Garton-Smith (text and all images)