5 Steps to Growing a Better Writing Life

Today I’m going to expound upon something that’s been on my mind quite a bit lately—grass. Specifically, the grass in my front yard, which is currently a fetching shade of brown. My stubborn lawn (could anything be more “boring”?) has been giving me quite a few lessons lately. Here are a few to help your own creative life.


1. First, Recognize When Problems Arise

One of my favorite sayings as a new homeowner with a patchy lawn that was the least of my long list of concerns was, “Hey, crab grass is still green, right?”

And, well, that is technically true.

Problem was, all kinds of weeds are green. Clover’s green. Spreading violets are green. Dandelions are, for the most part, green. Moss is green. But if you’re honest, or unless you live in a woodland kingdom, complete with toadstools and magical, talking creatures, moss and creeping violets aren’t great for a healthy patch of overwatered, useless suburban carpeting.

(Sorry, I’ve been having more than a few misgivings about my front yard lately. Apologies.)

Eventually, Greg and I had to admit that what we had beyond the front door was more of a mixed patchwork of weeds than lawn, and had to call in the professionals.

Lately I’ve been having some of the same problems in my writing routine. Once so perfect and regimented (see Fake Being a Morning Person in 5 Easy Steps for the best morning routine OF ALL TIME), my blocks of writing and running time have been sloshing into each other; I’ve not written very much beyond posts for this blog and others in the last handful of months. There’s a problem.

That’s the first step.

2. Call in the Professionals.

Whether it’s a bag of Scott’s Weed & Feed or a lawn service (which means a man in a truck will pull up in your driveway armed with polarizing sunglasses and a clipboard. He will stand wide-legged in the middle of your front yard and chew on his tongue as he marks items on a sheet of paper, clucking disapprovingly the whole time. He will then tell you about the disease and grubs and poor soil he’s found and say, “I’ve seen worse,” and his eyes will tell you the truth: Not much worse.), you have to find help to fix problems.

In developing a writing habit, rescuing a story gone sour or overhauling your entire writing routine, the “professionals” in your case could be as simple as an alarm clock or as complex as joining a writing group, picking up an accountability buddy, or bribing yourself with treats like coffee to keep you motivated.

And when they say, “I’ve seen worse,” believe them. It’s pointless otherwise.

3. Invest Your Back and Your Blisters and Get Some Bug Spray

Righting a wrong in your creative life takes energy. Unfortunately, you don’t change habits by simply waking up one morning and saying, “Today, it will all be different! And BETTER! SO MUCH BETTER!” Your old habits and the dross of your existing writing are solid things, with matter and their own tiny gravitational pull. Be prepared to put in the work to change what needs to be changed, and make sure to practice self-care and rest appropriately while doing so.

Once the weeds were gone from the front lawn (thanks, disapproving lawn guy), huge bare patches of dirt were left. Knowing it’d be cheaper to do this part ourselves, Greg and I got bags of lime, fertilizer, and grass seed, and raked, thatched, cleared, brushed, limed, fertilized, seeded and watered the lawn.

Long story short: Blisters. Blisters everywhere. And bugs. Gnats. Mosquitoes. Bees. Beetles. And more gnats.

4. Water More Than Is Sensible

Making matters worse on our lawn is the fact that it gets sun from sun-up to sundown every day. The already-poor mountain soil gets baked into sand and dust particles if it doesn’t get water twice a day. I’ve planted some trees in the yard to remedy this, but while they grow, the grass seed calls for water.

Your writing habits call for water. Your creative life demands it, and your sanity needs it. You need books, you need art, you need time out jogging in nature (if that’s your thing) or you need time on a mall bench, people-watching (if that’s your jam). You need fuel for your stories to grow. Maybe more than you need the stories, to start.

People-watch more than is sensible, ’til you wonder whether your time would be better spent elsewhere. Take lots of writing breaks. Take a notebook with you to work, or tap away on your smartphone in between phone calls or unnoticed during slow meetings.

Feed and water yourself at all costs.

True story: We didn’t believe this grass-growing admonishment. Until we discovered, after two weeks of waiting for grass seedlings to appear, that the spots where the cheap sprinkler leaked and puddled on the lawn were the only spots that were turning from brown to green. Lesson learned.

5. Cut Only When Ready

The clumps of surviving grass from last year’s weeding will be growing wheat by the time the tender new shoots are ready for prime-time mowing. But that bugs me, because the rest of the lawn is high now. The good green grass is ready now. But the seedlings can’t take it. And so we wait.

Many elements of your creative vision are, right now, ready for prime-time. Isn’t that exciting? Perhaps your character development is top-notch. Really amazing. Like the best of Faulkner and the Bronte sisters with just a touch of Shakespeare. But your creative landscape might still have a few problems (if you read step 1, you should already know what they are). Give yourself time for your stories and essays to fail miserably. That’s okay. You’re waiting for the rest to grow into where they should be.

Did this brutal winter absolutely murder your plants like it did mine? Do you have more to add to my lawn analogy? Maybe you’ve put rocks on the front lawn instead of grass. How’s that going? Share your opinions and allay my frustration (please?) in the comments.