Writing Like a Gardener

Monday, February 13, 2017

My online critique partner recently considered setting a manuscript aside in the middle of the first draft and not picking it up again until she had a chance to travel to her story location. Here is the advice I gave her:

The first draft is for getting something down on paper, and the second and third drafts are for cleaning up the facts as well as everything else. The first draft may be garbage, but it becomes the fertilizer that eventually grows a healthy garden. I always try to get the first draft completed before I put it aside to breathe while I work on something else.

It wasn’t until I wrote those words that I realized how much writing has in common with gardening.

My father was an avid gardener. Every year he would turn over the soil, drop seeds in some furrows, and plant seedlings in others. For fertilizer, he would use compost or animal waste. Daddy would have been horrified at the very idea of stopping when the garden was only half planted. Instead, he kept going until everything was in the ground. (His first draft.)

He may have taken a slight break then, but soon he was back at work in the garden. He weeded, watered if there wasn’t enough rain, and added more fertilizer when necessary. (His second draft.)

When the vegetables were ready to pick, he harvested them. (His final draft.) Then he brought them to our table, much as a writer sends his or her story to publishers and agents.

Daddy was a tenacious gardener. He worked hard, and he never gave up. That’s why he succeeded at growing the healthy crops you can see in the picture.

So if you are tempted to set aside that first draft before it is finished, don’t give in. The first draft may be garbage, but it becomes the compost that grows a healthy garden.


The picture at the top of this post shows Daddy with the fruit of his garden in LaPrairie, Illinois. My mother took it when I was three years old. And yes, that little girl is me.

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