Monday, May 7, 2012

Column: Garden to Table by Karen Albright Lin

Writing is gardening, the result a feast. The metaphor is obvious: plant seeds, water, fertilize, weed, harvest, and enjoy the result in the form of a fabulous meal. Why does this metaphor feel so right? Every stage of growing food to nourish our bodies has a counterpart in growing stories to feed our minds.

A plot is like the garden map; if we throw seeds randomly the result is a confusing mess. Subplots are like carrots; if we have too many of them, it’s as if we’ve planted seeds too closely. The row is so tightly packed that no carrot can grow to its potential. Plots need room to breathe.

We find the perfect spot to plant our strawberries, radishes and scallions. We space the seeds just so. But darn it if the neighbor didn’t plant a fast growing Ausstree Willow that sucks the water right out of our bed and throws shade on our nascent plants all but ten minutes of each day. Likewise, the shade of negativity can stunt the growth of stories, even those begun with the best seed. There will always be interruptions and backslides but we needn’t pout. Maybe the neighbor would be willing to trim his tree or help us dig out a new bed on the other side of the yard. It serves us well, in gardening and in writing, to seek and accept support from others. If we surround ourselves with sunshine, the veggies and fruit will thrive.

You’ve got to edit. And edit. And edit. Enough said.

How should we look at our bruised fruit? With admiration! Do you want taste or shiny wax? Good characters are like bruised fruit. The imperfect ones often taste sweeter and are full of authentic flavor.

Unlike farmers competing with their 1,000+ pound pumpkins, we writers compliment and even combine our crops; my zucchini, her parsley and garlic, his onions and tomatoes and your eggplant mix to make an unbeatable ratatouille. That’s what critique groups and involvement in the greater writing community are all about. It’s in our best interest to cooperate rather than compete.

Writing and gardening are emotional roller coasters. There are exquisite highs (a bumper crop of jalapenos) and agonizing lows (that damn rabbit ate the strawberries). Expect them. Celebrate them both as forward movement. Even a rejection gets you one step closer to publication, as long as you listen to the reason you were rejected.
Next time we can talk about my favorite subject (as a foodie and food writer): cooking up our crops.

Publication and sharing our bounty is the purpose of planting our garden. Go grow some cucumbers and a ton of fans!

I wish you good gardening!

(Originally posted at the Sisters of the Quill blog on May 31, 2011)

About the Writer:  Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at

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