How to Cultivate Patience During the (First) Drafting Process

This past winter hit the northeastern US pretty hard. The rocky soil around my house was frozen solid until the last week in March; ice lurked in chunks around bulb roots until mid-April. The unseasonably cold spring guaranteed that home gardeners everywhere, me included, did a lot of sitting on our hands and squinting at the latest temperature forecasts.

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To top it all off, April 1, it snowed about an inch, skimming close to the record for latest snowfall ever in Connecticut.

Daffodils

The little guys in the middle are daffodils… in mid-May.

But now, summer’s on our doorstep. Finally—finally—my plants are blooming. This year, the tulips went first and disappeared quickly, like little giggles.

Then the frost-sensitive daffodils, the dogwood trees, and the forsythia.

On the mountain, the showy red azaleas are just beginning to brown, and next up is our 20-foot rhododendron. The rhododendron ensures that I stay clear of that backyard corner while it’s colonized completely by bees, wasps, hornets, bumblebees and beetles.

Then summer’s black-eyed Susans, peonies and hydrangeas will carry the show until mid-July, when the daylilies will close the second act through August.

In September, my gardens go quiet, I plant rust-colored mums in pots formerly occupied by pansies, and let pumpkins sag on the porch steps. The curtains of frost move in again, as early as October.

The point of all this? Patience is hard. Frankly, patience sucks.

 The Writer As Gardener

Writers get compared to a lot of other professions and hobbyists these days. Runners, CEOs and parents never escape the front end of a writing metaphor, so I’ll add gardeners to that list of things writers are like.

And the metaphor fits. The editing process is very much like pruning shrubs—you hate to see healthy growth go. Or digging up whole plants and carrying them elsewhere—it’s critical to take up all the roots carefully, making sure you don’t leave a gaping hole in the landscape, that kind of thing. I could go on.

Enduring the First Draft Slog

To me, the most important lessons to be learned from watching grass grow (literally) have been about patience, which, as an impatient person in a slow profession, I find pretty handy. Like:

1. Planning ahead means that your garden (or your novel) will probably look pretty funny today. I recently planted about 15 bare-root daylilies I ordered from a farm in Michigan (thanks, Groupon!). They looked like little yellow shoots attached to tiny little potato roots. Kinda pathetic, actually. But because daylilies grow to be about 24 inches wide with tall flower stalks, they had to be planted far apart. Until they started growing, my garden basically had huge bare patches. I had to resist the temptation to run out and buy more flowers to “fill in” the space.

By the same token, the first draft is where all the temptation to overwrite, “fill in” the blanks, and add in extra scenes for character or “color” happen. Resist (or, if it’s too late, edit)! You’ll save yourself a ton of work later on.

10153270_10100448005909499_704942355_n2. The drafting process doesn’t always “feel” right. I try to remember that even fabulous, nearly flawless ideas have an awkward teenage phase while you’re making them a reality. It can be easy to look at what’s not done yet and consider giving up. For example, I have the most awkward hydrangea bushes in existence. They’re the variety that blooms on new and old wood, so until about mid-July, it looks like a giant tumbleweed that’s stuck in place.

But as you can see, the hydrangeas reward me for my patience (which is good for them, since I’d have pulled them out by now, otherwise).

3. Take the eventual appearance of ideas on faith. When I started this blog, I had perhaps a dozen blog post ideas, total. I was so green to the whole thing that I didn’t even realize that there was a distinct possibility that one could exhaust the depths of their ideas, particularly on a subject as vast and multifaceted as writing.

Since then, I’ve many times felt like I’m down to my last trick; I’m not sure if I have one more post in me. But I almost invariably do. (Or I take a mini-vacation, which is sometimes just the trick.)

Similarly, the dogwood tree I mentioned in the introduction? The one that blooms last? I have to take that on faith, because it hasn’t bloomed in the 3 years since I’ve planted it (kousa dogwoods are notorious for being finicky late-bloomers when they’re uprooted). I’ve got a perfectly healthy tree that just isn’t ready for prime-time, even though it’s grown 2 feet since I got it in 2011. All the books tell me it will bloom. So I’m just waiting. I suppose it’ll bloom someday. Hopefully we still live here when it does.

Patience.

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What about you? Do you garden? Do you hate being patient? What are you working on, on this particular Wednesday? Share it in the comments!

Categories: Writing Tips
  • http://www.marthaspencil.com Martha Moffett

    Shanan, I enjoyed the horticultural stuff along with the writing stuff. Here’s my account of a year in South Florida, which passed with little change in temperature but the usual process of change for the mango (and for the hinted-at relationship. Someone told me that every poem about food is a love poem).

    FLORIDA TIME

    The mango tree we planted

    Is bending with fruit.

    There’s fresh mango for breakfast,

    Resin from the peel curling our mouths.

    There’s mango pickle and mango chutney,

    Mango salad with red onion slices,

    Mango ice between courses,

    And just when we can’t eat more, the last one

    Falls from the tree and the carpenter ants

    Find it first, but even before they do,

    The mango tree is covered with

    Downy, starry blossoms that the wasps adore.

    After we forget the blossoms,

    Schoolboys passing along the canal

    Pick small green knobs the size of marbles

    And whiz them at each other,

    But the higher ones grow bigger every day

    And not such a dark green—a blush appears, a pink-yellow sun

    That spreads and deepens, and you come in one morning

    And put a ripe mango on my breakfast plate.

    –Martha Moffett, 1997

  • Ellen Andersen

    I love the comparison of writing and gardening. I love both too. Both require patience–I’ve never thought about that before.

  • http://grleblanc.blogspot.ca/ Gisele LeBlanc

    I love the gardening analogy–it’s so fitting. I also think a keyword here is “trust.” Trust in the process, trusting in yourself. I’m working on that part a lot right now, too. 🙂

  • talker445

    I’m being patient to live and be where God puts me. With writing, I’m trying not to rush my current wip…not always easy!

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