Deb Vanasse | A Writer’s Garden

It’s that time of year when I begin my days at the keyboard and end them in the garden. It’s hard not to notice the ways one activity informs the other. I’ve written about this before, but after returning from a faculty stint at a writers conference in Alaska’s Garden City, how could I not say more?

It started with keynote speaker Paul Theroux, who spoke in his introduction of his Hawaiian garden, guarded by geese. The discussions continued with Bob, who’s transforming twenty acres outside of Homer with fruit trees, nut trees, and other permaculture favorites.  Then Sherry Simpson and I talked as much about gardening in our newish locales as we did about writing (and politics and murders, but those are stories for another day).

I’ve been expanding my gardening perspective to include permaculture principles. Giving more than you take is one of the key tenets of permaculture. I like that concept for writers as well. There’s also a good deal to be said for knowing your vectors—the forces of sun, wind, water, and fire that affect your plot of land. This is a lot like what I find myself telling writers about knowing themselves. It’s great to talk with others about how they do what they do, but ultimately, you should consider your own set of psychological quirks and habits as you determine how to do your best work.

I used to think that planting decisions were mostly permanent. Happily, I’ve discovered that’s no truer in gardening than it is in writing. This spring I dug up pretty much every woody ornamental I’d planted on the east side of the house and replanted them to the west, where they’re more sheltered from storms. I expect their wind-resistant replacements to thrive. In a similar manner, shifting sections of narrative can be a worthwhile endeavor.

Gardeners understand that pruning can be every bit as important as planting. That’s because pruning stimulates growth. Cutting words may be harder than lobbing off limbs (when they’re not your own, that is), but the growth that follows is its own reward.

Then there’s seasonality. In gardening, we do best to work in sync with external conditions—heat, sun, rain, frost. Plants require periods of darkness, of dormancy. It’s as foolish to fight that in gardening as it is in writing.

Finally, as any gardener will tell you, it’s all about the dirt. No one’s is perfect. Nutrients, pH, drainage—the adjustments never end. If what you’ve got isn’t working, you start over, make your own. It’s a marvel, what grows out of that dirt, the workings of forces we scarcely understand.

Deb Vanasse is the author of seventeen books with six different publishers. Among the most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds; and the “deeply researched and richly imagined” biography  Wealth Woman. After thirty-six years in Alaska, she now lives on the north coast of Oregon, where she continues to write while doing freelance editing, coaching, and writing instruction.


1 thought on “Deb Vanasse | A Writer’s Garden”

  1. Thank you for this Deb. Starting the day at the keyboard and ending it in the garden. Indeed. Great meeting you at Northwords!

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