Last Thursday afternoon I took some time off to tame our feral garden. The sun made an unexpected appearance and I couldn’t miss the opportunity.
We’ve been faffing around inexcusably regarding what to do with bits of our lawn. One large section is a mess, after we had a boat standing there for years (a long story). We sold the boat a few months ago and since then the whole area has been an eye-sore and child-trap: full of bits of rubbish, holes the dog dug under the boat and many vicious weeds.
Husband wanted to fill the holes with top-soil, roller it flat, make it as gorgeous as a cricket pitch. I want somewhere the kids can play without getting stung or covered in mud or breaking their ankle.
In our family, husband is responsible for all things outside and DIY, while I do all things indoors and domestic. I have recently taken over lawn mowing while husband has been away with work, much to my 3-year-old daughter’s bewilderment.
The first time I dragged the lawnmower out of the shed she looked at me as if I’d grown horns.
“Mummy, that’s daddy’s job.”
I couldn’t figure out how to get the mower started and after twenty minutes I was sweating and cursing. Her response was:
“Better leave it to daddy.”
Needless to say she had a quick lesson in woman’s lib and not giving up and I was given the motivation required to approach the task more calmly and find the dead-switch.
As well as mowing this Thursday I decided to tackle the ugly-eye-sore spot. First thing was to shift a giant tarpaulin and wood pile, trying not to scream too loudly when I uncovered a nest of tiny mice. (I covered them with a plant pot and they were later relocated by their mummy.)
As I was moving planks, filling holes, scattering grass seed and generally trying to reclaim half my lawn for the kids, I got to thinking about writing (as I often do when my hands are busy but my mind is not.)
I see metaphors everywhere; it was easy to get distracted by what it symbolised to leave baby mice safely hidden, only to trap them later when they venture into our house, or the futility of planting grass seed for the birds to eat. Maybe the wasted effort of reclaiming lawn when it hasn’t stopped raining for three months and the long-term forecast isn’t much better.
In the end what stuck in my mind the most was the conflicting lures of planning versus getting stuck in. When I write, I generally just get stuck in, and the ideas follow (hopefully) one upon another as I type. I’ve often thought I should plan more. One writer I know sketches every scene before writing anything and has a prescribed number of chapters in a book and so on.
That fills me with awe and terror.
Awe because I can’t write like that and terror because I feel I probably should. How can I call myself a writer when I stumble along hoping a story comes to me as I type? Except I recently read that even well-known published authors occasionally have the same approach.
Looking at our garden my conclusion was it’s okay to just get stuck in, although a little planning doesn’t hurt. If I had got stuck in at the beginning of summer, without worrying about a plan, we’d have lawn by now. A lumpy lawn, full of weeds and holes, but a lawn nonetheless. In this case planning equalled procrastination (to be fair, mostly it was due to my husband being just too busy). However I did lose an hour of gardening time on Thursday having to go buy grass seed, so some planning might have helped. The main thing is, when I look at the flat seeded area now (see photo) I am filled with a huge sense of satisfaction and progress, no matter how uneven the end result.
I have reached deadlock with my Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, because I have to create a new world and a history. I am dealing with two planets and two timelines, and planning really is essential to keep it all straight.
But I hate planning.
I don’t like reaching the end of a day with no increase in word-count. There is no sense of satisfaction, just a growing confusion, and sense that I could probably plan forever and never be fully satisfied. My creativity doesn’t function unless I am actually writing. I may as well be doing school essays.
Reading what I’ve written so far I realise that lack of planning hasn’t held me back from writing some good stuff. I mostly know where the story is going, in my mind, I just don’t always know how it is going to get there until I start writing it down.
So, I could fart about worrying about the details of my world and have no story to enter in the Mslexia competition in September. Or I could break a dozen rules, just keep writing, and add the history in the second draft.
Maybe sometimes you just have to get stuck in and not worry if it’s lumpy and full of holes. After all you can’t edit a blank page any more than you can mow dirt.