Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
“Gardening is writing…”


A few years ago, I took the summer "off" to write. That is, I didn't teach any classes. "Off" for a mother-writer means that you still have all the same child-and-family related duties (or more, as, after all, you aren't "working"). So there I was, with a couple of months in front of me to finish a rewrite on a novel. And all I did was garden. I weeded the nasty grasses out from under 150 flagstones. I took a level area, built mounds, and planted perennials: lavender and melissa and sage and thyme and Meyer lemon. I uncovered weed roots and removed them. I got really big muscles. I did not -- could not -- write. "Gardening is writing," my friend Chris (journalist and novelist) reassured me.

Indeed, three months later, back in the thick of it all, I had a burst of autumn energy and finished the rewrite. And I think it's because I had those months to work with my body and think, even though I didn't think I was thinking.

Writing and gardening (and parenting), it's the same creative process. Sometimes slow. Sometimes thankless. And sometimes gardening is the most satisfying of all -- at least you can see what you've accomplished during the day.

Gardening is writing I reassure myself these weeks, as I wait to hear the verdict on my collection of short stories from a few agents. I'm in that writer limbo that resembles late pregnancy -- too late to do anything but wait and nest. This baby is fully viable. When do the contractions start?

I bought 1,200 pounds of stones from American Soil and Stone Products last week. And today, a big, brawny guy is going to help me move them from the sidewalk outside my house into the garden. We'll excavate a few inches of soil, lay some sand, and then I'll get to play.

In the meanwhile, the fiction department here at Literary Mama is looking for an editorial assistant. If you are a strong copyeditor, a fiction writer, and a mother, please email me. Send me a brief bio. You'll be working closely with me, Ericka, so enjoying gardening metaphors is a plus.

Ericka Lutz is an author, solo performer, and teacher. Her seven non-fiction books include On the Go with Baby and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Stepparenting, and her fiction/creative nonfiction has appeared in numerous books, anthologies, and journals. Ericka teaches writing at U.C. Berkeley. She also provides private coaching on writing and writing process to writers and organizations. Her full-length solo show, “A Widow’s To-Do List,” is currently in development in San Francisco. For information on upcoming performances, visit Ericka’s website.

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Oh, I love that! "Gardening is writing." I hope that "Mothering is writing," too, because lately, that's all I manage to do.
You are, of course, working in a fine tradition of writer/thinkers/storytellers who use gardening to gather thoughts for the next phase. I'm finally actually reading Ian Davidson's Voltaire in Exile, which shows us that the final line of Candide, "We must cultivate our garden," isn't just a metaphor for "act locally." Voltaire went to the shed and picked up a shovel, built arboretums and planned menus based partly on his land's bounty. (Then he went out and wrote a play or two and campaigned against religious extremism. Reading about 18th and 19th-century writers-- like our girl Anne Bradstreet, below-- can makes one feel like such a slacker.) Me, black thumb that I am, I'll buy my vegies from FreshDirect or the farmers' market, and tthink of you. C p.s. I can't do links here, but check out eitherthe book or, at least, Adam Gopnik's terrific review in the New Yorker if you haven't yet .....
Nice, Ericka. That May Sarton quote springs to mind: "Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace."
I enjoyed your comments, Ericka, and they brought to mind a book by another mother writer, Growing Seasons (Seal Press, 2003) by Annie Speigleman. I enjoyed reading this book because of the links she makes between nurturing children, writing, and a garden. She shows that creative energy seems to all come from the same place--which is something I also believe.
Reading this article has helped me realize that the creativity I didn't think I had, I really do. This realization is the beginning of something great. thanks.
Ericka, thank you, thank you for offering this to us all. I so often forget how much downtime I need to write, sitting in front of the computer is its own seduction, as is, too, the dirt under my fingernails all summer long.
Thank you for this wonderful essay! I put to bed a book of essays, last fall, which I published and have been in the thick of promoting (hard labor of another kind). I am not ready to dive into more writing ... at least yet ... but meanwhile this spring I started a Japanese garden in my back yard. This has satisifed something else, something deeper, in my creative soul. I plan to write about this process, too, but for now, am happy to keep my hands in the green world and my mind happily lulled in the soil. Again, thanks for validating the creative part of gardening!
Oh, you are all so kind! Nice to know I'm hitting a resonant chord. (I type this with soil-grimed fingers. Gee, plants are expensive...)
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