Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hats, Posts and Literary Landscapes


by Cathie Sercombe
A few weeks ago, my husband and I gave our garden some overdue attention. We felled weed trees, removed deadwood and spindly branches, edited the overgrowth and carted several trailer loads of green waste to the tip. Despite the hard yakka and the potential for danger implicit in our task, the only casualty was my gardening hat – brim and bonnet ripped asunder – an inevitable consequence of its age. I’ve had that hat for forty years.

Hat, Post, Landscape and Crow-bar
 
Writers wear many hats. After all, writing is not all we do. ‘What!’ I hear you gasp. Of course, you know it’s true. What we do, is landscape our texts with the experiences gleaned while we wear our other hats.
My gardening hat probably lasted as long as it did because it doesn’t get a work-out very often. I’m an occasional gardener, not a professional landscaper. You might be an occasional writer, or a professional one. Either way, I bet you’ve earned a few blisters and produced a few flowers – speaking metaphorically at least.

Another casualty of time is the post on which the hat sits – a tree root has displaced it. I’ll have to put my trusty made-to-measure crow-bar to work and dig it out so it can be replaced. It won’t be the first post-hole I’ve dug, or helped dig. I’ve hefted that crow-bar to hollow out holes in the ground for 88 garden and retaining wall posts on our property. Thinking about those posts prompted thoughts about this one – so here are a few writing principles flavoured by my landscaping experiences.

 
Preparation and research are necessary, but don’t get carried away. The corner post (in the above corner under the rose) was my first. Hubby measured, marked where to dig and I went for it. I dug a whole lot wider and a whole lot deeper than I needed to, wasting time, effort, and concrete. I applied moderation to subsequent digs.
The first written draft is rarely perfect. It requires extra time and effort editing. Practice leads to improvement, both in technique and end result. Even those first drafts seem to get better the more you write.

 
The wall at the front of our property was 600mm high, which meant post-holes needed to be 700mm deep to hold firm in our ‘plastic’ soil profile. Natural springs under the footpath moistened the subsoil there, making it easier to dig. Behind the house we had to dig 1200mm holes for our 1000mm high walls; the surface was already one metre below the topsoil. The only way we could break through that clay, was by first soaking it with water.
A short story is different to a poem is different to a novel is different to a magazine article; each requires materials, scaffolding and structure of the right type, size and shape for the genre. The lessons learned writing in one genre enhance writing technique and positively inform a variety of other writing formats.

As much as we loved the look of our round koppers logs, they were difficult to work with; they had to be planed and chiseled and shaped to fit together and to fit the curve of the uprights. It was easy to get discouraged when progress was slow and tedious. Being prepared to try something different for the side and rear walls of the property allowed us to finish the job sooner and worked just as well.

Don’t get stuck in a rut. If the current writing project is dragging on and going nowhere, try something different. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results. Being a great children’s writer during the week doesn’t preclude you from writing devotions on the weekend. Besides, varying the vista may bring fresh insights and enthusiasm.

 
Not everybody will appreciate the effort you put into your writing projects. They may abuse them or use them in a way you never intended. We didn’t plant posts to feed termites! Then again, your readers may get far more enjoyment from your writing than you ever expected. I may not be happy when the neighbourhood mutts water our front retaining wall, but my dog just loves neutralizing their efforts.
Any writing project can seem daunting and overwhelming at times. Don’t get so stressed by the size of the project that you forget to enjoy the process. One day, you’ll look back and think, ‘Wow! I did that. And I enjoyed myself! I am awesome!’ and you’ll be right.

Have your gardening or landscaping experiences informed your writing? If so, why not share the nuggets of wisdom you’ve unearthed in the comments section below.
Catherine Sercombe is a wife, mother of three, (they’ve grown up now), creative writing graduate and published author from Queensland, Australia. She manages an education business where she has the privilege of tutoring and encouraging students of all ages to meet their academic goals. Described in publication as a ‘writer whose work reflects an infectious love of language’, Catherine says, ‘From A to Z, surely the best writing begins and ends in God.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1-2). That’s an epidemic worth spreading.’  
 
 
 
 
 

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for that Cathie. A great post. If I had to share insights on writing from my gardening experiences, it would be a very short book. Only things that need no care whatsoever manage to grow in our garden :) But I really like your analogies. Especially "the lessons learned writing in one genre enhance writing technique and positively inform a variety of other writing formats". That is so true. Doing a creative non-fiction subject was an eye-opener for me in seeing how fiction-writer's techniques can be incorporated into a non-fiction piece to make it more riveting. Poetry can enhance our ability to use well-placed imagery in our stories. It's good to be stretched outside our comfort zones every now and then and try something different. We may be surprised at the results! Thanks for sharing, and if you ever feel like landscaping my garden, you know where to find me :)

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  2. Thanks Nola. All things considered, I think I would rather gaze at your existing garden from the comfort of your 'writing inspiration space', than change the view! I do think you've highlighted one of the best 'lessons' though. Cross-pollination creates diversity, resilience and a whole new world of beautiful possibilities in the garden and in literature.

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  3. Thanks for your post Cathie. I admire your industry and the results :) It's a few years since I've been in to gardening - mainly due to 2 frozen shoulders, back & knee problems which made it a difficult exercise though I used loved the feel of soil and green things. Writing too can have that regenerating effect as well. Some great analogies. Like Nola I particularly liked the point that trying a hand at a different genre can enhance. I've just finished a unit on Script Writing and have learned heaps - but also, it's helped me look at writing in a different way.

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  4. In script writing, the dialogue is everything isn't it? I'm afraid our garden got so overgrown because back/neck/shoulder injuries and issues slowed me down for years - one of the reasons I was so thankful that the hat was the only casualty! Mind you, both hubby and I were muscle sore and splinter-ridden after our recent gardening efforts.

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    1. May be hope for me yet. The shoulders are now fine but the back and knees still make doing anything that requires bending downright difficult. Dialogue is very important in Script writing - especially for the stage - but we had it emphasised for us that movie scripts need crisp dialogue and as much action as possible.

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  5. Great post Cathie. Well done on all that hard work in the garden, for that 40 year old hat (wow!) and your great writing that starts and ends with God. I do love that! Great analogy too. All the best in your future writing endeavours. Looking forward to connecting with you again at the writer's conference! :)

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    1. Thanks Anusha. I wish! I do not think my budget will extend to the Writer's Conference plus travel costs this year. Hopefully my fellow Quillians will bring home all the good news from it. I will miss meeting with you all again though. I'm so glad the internet works as a meeting place for us despite the kilometres that separate.

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  6. Hi Cathie,
    RIP to your hat. It's had a good innings though, and been worn often, if your photos are anything to go by. What a lovely garden! I'm not surprised to see there are so many analogies with writing, as they are both such consuming, caring occupations (although, to be honest, I don't know much about gardening). I do find it easier to get stressed by the size of a gardening project than a writing project :)

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    1. Perhaps I should have a memorial service for my hat? Unless I try to resurrect it instead. I've done that a couple of times before - restitching seams etc. I suspect it is beyond salvation this time around. I remember the day I bought it - with my own pocket money - from a little 'odds and ends' shop that my mother and I found while we were out walking together. It has such lovely memories attached that I'm reluctant to bid it farewell. It's a link to the pleasant past.

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  7. Enjoyable post with good points, Catherine. Loved the garden and dog pics.

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    1. Thanks Dale. My dog, Theo, is my shadow - his involvement was entirely voluntary but much appreciated.

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  8. LOVED this post Cathie! I so relate to your gardening analogies. Actually every time I get stumped in my writing my rockery welcomes me. I have rocks from all over Australia and love plantings to fit between my special memory rocks! And I tip my old gardening hat to yours, (and your crowbar,) for all that strenuous creativity.

    Yes, it's interesting how when I go from novel writing to radio scripting, how sharper I have become. I write the script the way my characters would use dialogue and it has more verve.

    I have a little note on my bench. It goes: 'More important than delivery is structure. Before I get it across, I need to put it together. The better I put it together, the easier I put it across.'

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    1. Wow! Great wisdom Rita. We have a habit of collecting little rocks from happy places and activities - we add them to the pebbled section beside the driveway to say to all our visitors, 'Welcome, come share some happy times of friendship and fellowship with us.'

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