Edith here, writing north of Boston – with a giveway, so keep reading!
New Englanders who garden finally have their vegetable gardens planted, and I am one of them. My lettuce went in a while ago, because it’s cold hardy, and of course I planted the garlic last fall. This week I put in all my tender veggies now that both the soil and air are warm enough. I’m talking about the plants that don’t tolerate cold weather: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil, cukes, and more.
I will nurture these babies along, water them when it doesn’t rain, prune the tomatoes to two main stalks, mulch the soil to keep down weeds and conserve moisture when it’s hot and dry, and generally take care of them so in a couple months I can head around to the back and harvest our dinner (or part of it).
My annual planting ritual (and I’ve had either a garden or a farm since I was in college) led me to thinking about how it’s similar to – and different from – writing mystery novels or short stories.
Planting. For me, starting a story isn’t as straightforward as pressing a seed into prepared soil or tucking a seedling into same. Certainly, I have to prepare my mind and my environment. I’ll have sent in the last manuscript due, taken a couple of days off, even straightened my desk. Sometimes I know exactly where to start the new book and what’s going to happen, and the planting is easy. Other books take more pondering, more waiting for the story to reveal itself enough for me to begin writing.
Nurturing. Ah, the nurturing. Every writer is different. In my case, the best way for my story to unfold is for me to show up for work every day by seven in the morning and set my fingers on the keys.
Writing the story feeds it. Immersing myself in the first draft keeps the ideas flowing even when I’m not at my desk. Also, as many of you know, I love to take myself off for a writing retreat, either solo or with others, several times a year. On retreat I write all day and all evening. I’m so immersed you can almost see the smoke coming off my fingertips.
Watering and pruning. This would be my revision process. Because I write such spare first drafts (that is, way too short) so fast (in under two months), I need to go through and check all those bits of research or words I didn’t take time for the first time around. Make the language more elegant, more expressive. Include the senses and my protagonist’s feelings and reactions. Assure that the puzzle works and backfill both clues and red herrings. But I need to prune, too. I work through my list of overused words and clip them out. I make sure every scene moves the story forward and has the biggies: conflict, action, surprise, turn. If not, bye-bye scene. And so on.
Harvesting. In the garden, I can pluck off a few outer leaves of lettuce for a salad while leaving the head to keep getting bigger. I can gather today’s ripe tomatoes and know I’ll have a bunch more to pick in two days. The book harvest can also have many stages and forms. I first harvest a manuscript when I send it to an independent editor. Again when I submit it to my editor at the publisher. Again after copyedits and again after proofs, my very last chances for final pruning and watering. The final harvest is when its out in the world for you all to read and enjoy. That’s the best part!
I seem to have one last ARC of Strangled Eggs and Ham, my next book to be ready for final harvest (June 25 release, and your preorder is much appreciated). I’d love to send it to one of you (US only).
So, readers: What’s your favorite harvested vegetable, fruit, or metaphorical thing?