Friday, March 11, 2011

Tend Your Writer's Garden with Guest Blogger: Sharon Hamilton

The Book Boost welcomes author Sharon Hamilton today!

Here's what she had to say...

Here in beautiful Sonoma County, California, we have the luxury of working in the garden year-round, though we natives sometimes complain about cold rain and muddy conditions. Most of us wait until there’s a little sun. We freely admit to being spoiled.

The greenest day is always St. Patrick’s. The hills are so bright you almost need shades. It’s also the perfect time for planting summer-blooming flowers and vegetables. It’s the one time of year I hire someone to come in and do the heavy work of rototilling last year’s vegetable garden, without having to be careful about mowing down something by accident. IT ALL GOES!

In my flowerbeds, I deadhead old dried blooms and replant them with a forefinger in the warm soil. I tie up my daffodils and narcissus in knots, so the vitamins go back to the bulbs. I snip off new flower starts so they will grow squat and bushy and have more blooms. I plant nasturtium seeds, poppies, Sweet William, pink yarrow and daisies, as well as other blooming summer flowers. I plant bucketsful (let the dogs tamp them into the ground) of sunflowers in all sizes and shapes. What the birds don’t get, I get. The ground is moist, and usually beginning to warm, perfect for germination.

Looking at the brown loamy soil is like looking at a fresh white page of paper, or a blank computer screen with blinking cursor. Like a lush garden springing up from bare ground, my stories come to life on the blank page.

When I plant by seed, only the strongest new shoots are kept. I thin, and keep them spaced so they won’t grow crowded or fail to bloom properly. I once had three rows of healthy green corn stalks that never developed ears. I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the living shoots back when they were only an inch tall, so I let them all grow. All season we waited for ears, until the fall, when we confirmed what we’d been told but didn’t believe.

Do You Do That With Your Writing?

Sometimes it’s hard to cut the little darlings out. I want to save everything that is alive. Do you sometimes feel you have to save every wonderful word or phrase you write?

But the truth is, we can’t. We get advice to cut something out, but we don’t take it, and later, we do, after more heartache or rejection letters.

If I plant my seeds and starts at the right time, they take off. If I try (because I’m determined to do something I just know will work) to plant something out of season, Mother Nature becomes the cruelest critique partner a girl could have.

Have you tried to buck a trend or insist on breaking a genre rule you didn’t like and later learned it set you back? I have.

If I get my lettuce planted in March, I will have great salad leaves in May, just in time for summer lunches on the patio. I grow several varieties of cherry tomato, including miniature black crims, a new find for me last year.

Nurseries sell all sorts of plants that will freeze, and sometimes we get one in April, causing a replanting. I compare this to changing genres, going indie without proper editing, or being sloppy on posting or saying something on the Internet you wish you hadn’t. It’s hard to be patient and diligent. But a good writer, like a good gardener, learns to wait as they hone their craft. It takes as long as it takes.

I’ve pushed the envelope on the timing by putting waxed paper hats on my tomatoes and cucumbers, protecting them from a late, deadly freeze. This is like taking a writing class or joining a critique group. It can jump start your career; give you something sooner than you’d have discovered on your own.

However, I’ve never been able to successfully get melons to grow by planting them too early. They sit there stubbornly in the cold weather. They stay stubborn and often wither, and meanwhile, even seeds planted into the ground can overtake their size and vigor. They’ve burned themselves out trying to survive, like overworking a ms. or genre that was out of the author’s skill level or voice.

We write what we write, and our voice will be ours, not someone else’s. Just like the melons, some writers wear themselves out trying to be the kind of writer they think they should be. Opinions aren’t fact. Reality can be cruel. Show up. Pay attention. Don’t get attached to the outcome.

Spring reminds us of new things and possibilities. By summer and fall there’s lots of maintenance to be done in the garden. I mulch and hoe to keep the weeds away so the plants can flourish. I prune, trim away and keep vigilant on picking fruit and flowers, or the plant thinks it’s done its job. I coax just a little more out of Mother Nature by helping the plant do things it cannot do on its own.

That’s why they call it cultivation. A never-ending cycle of life and death, beginning and end, like our writing cycles.

No two gardens are ever the same, even planted with the same plan, just like two authors writing the same genre, or even the same types of characters. Things are always changing, and weather affects how they grow or how long they bloom. Everything is a cycle, a rhythm. The business of writing is a cycle as well.

Anything not picked or eaten is turned back into the soil to use next year, so my garden is the result of the many gardens that have come before, just like words and ideas that will get used in a future story.

There are hot moments of passion and inspiration, cool times of stark reality as I’m whacking away unnecessary things like overused words or passive voice. I replant scenes, plotlines and character traits. It requires as much tending as my garden. It likes to be fed and loves to be watered. It always surprises me and takes me on unexpected journeys.

How do you tend your writing garden?

A Note from the Book Boost: Sharon, hearing about all the work that goes into your lovely garden makes me tired. Now I want to take a Napa! Sorry, couldn't resist. I loved your blog today and thanks for sharing with us. Please come back when your garden blooms--and I know it will...

Want More Sharon?

Sharon Hamilton resides in Sonoma County, deep in wine country, and writes paranormal romance. Her agent is shopping her debut trilogy about angels, dark angels and vamps. She has finaled in three contests over the past twelve months, and is a member of three Northern California branches of Romance Writers of America. When not writing, she is muddy.

Visit her website here:
Or her blog here:


Julia Barrett said...

I love this post. It's so very true. My husband is better at pruning and thinning than I am - when it comes to the garden. I'm a real softie about volunteers and still living plants.
When it comes to my word salads, I can usually trim and thin without too many internal arguments.
I do like a clean writing style even if my garden is a little wild!

Julia Barrett said...

Oh and yes, March is gorgeous here in NorCal!

Sharon Hamilton said...

We are truly spoiled. I'm learning the word salad thingie. I love that term. Thanks for showing up, Julia.

Arletta Dawdy said...

It's dark out now and I want to go out and dig, run to the nursery, plant and reap the benefit of your words. What a gorgeous post, Sharon. This flows and feels so rich and natural that I can easily picture you at work onyour lovely property. Then, there is your garden of prose as rich and natural, the result of so much study and hard work. Thank you.

Carly Carson said...

How did I miss this? I remember planning to visit. I guess life intervened. I love my garden. It's like an outdoor room, welcoming visitors to my home. A genius planted it for me. I think a garden is more of a tactile and visual thing than a book, but the analogy holds when you realize they are both the result of imagination, creativity and hard work.

Sharon Hamilton said...

I'm sitting here and watching it pour buckets, and yet I know in a week or two I'll be putting on the sunscreen and will be sooooo sore at night.

Yes, I love the tilling of the soil, and just like in my writing, the hardest thing is pulling thing out. But of course, my chickens really appreciate it when I do!

Thanks for stopping by.

Sharon Hamilton said...

Yes, can't wait until those flowers and all the fruits of my labor come forth. Hard to picture it today when it is so dark. But it's coming. The birds are chirping, and they usually know better than I.