Winter Crops


In the heat of August it is weird to be thinking about a winter crop.  And after finishing a novel, it’s normal to take time off to rest the old gray cells.  At least that is what I’ve always heard.

“Step away from the book for a few months.  Get some perspective on it.”

Normally, ‘stepping away’ would mean taking two or three months off to take over the world a few times.  Just as I would take time off after the fall harvest to give the garden a rest.

But I can’t.

I can’t stop writing and I can’t stop growing stuff.  Not since I have gotten into the habit of writing and learned that gardening never really stops.  Plants like onions and garlic will grow all winter and other plants like cabbage, lettuce, peas, and broccoli are cold tolerant and can produce up until the ground freezes.  There’s this purple broccoli that has to over-winter before it blooms in the spring.  Check out  a full line of wintering crops.

Even while I was finishing up the final chapter of my last novel, my mind was already on the next one (to be clear, a revision of an older novel).  I couldn’t wait to get started again and took a week to do some outlining.  A few days later and I finished the first chapter.

Right now I’m in the honeymoon phase of the new novel, just as I’m bringing in a basketful of fruits and veggies every day.  But sooner than I think and I’ll have to start pulling dead plants, spraying the fruit trees, turning the compost, laying down straw, putting up row covers.  Just as I will have to pace the novel, keep the momentum moving forward, listen to my alpha readers, and kill my darlings.

I am going to get tired and frustrated.  I will find plot holes and blossom end rot, invading voles and passive verb spots.  Soon, this new love affair with the book will turn into a log trudge across a vast wasteland and my garden will transform to a bitterly cold tundra.

Fortunately, I know what to expect and I’m braced for the hardships.  So if all goes well, this novel and my garden will yield some good winter crops.


Aftermath Burnout

Sometimes events converge all at once.   Graduating and starting a new job, weddings followed by new homes, and once in a while major social events collide with personal goals.

I had such a meeting last week.  I finished my novel the same week we hosted a family reunion barbeque at our home.

We expected forty to fifty people but more than a hundred showed up.  I anticipated cooking for four hours, I ended up grilling for nearly twelve.  The cook-out turned out to be a grand success.  Despite the large numbers, everyone ate well and was inspired by how much work we did in the garden.

After the last guest departed and the debris swept from the patio, what followed was a cathartic moment.  There was nothing left to do, no pressing deadline, no plot lines to tidy up, no weeds to be pulled.  I slipped into a restless coma for a few days, played a bit of Xbox, and watched a few mindless movies.

I didn’t step outside to look over my veggie domain or spend an hour with my fingers hovered over the keyboard trying to finish a paragraph.  I haven’t written a word and I lack the desire to write.   But I know I have to get back at it.

A friend of mine who wrote YA novels and a successful blog pulled off a major fundraiser last year and afterwards everything stopped.  She became a victim of aftermath burnout.  And I can really empathize with her.

Someone said that beginning a novel is like beginning a love affair, writing the book is like crossing a vast desert and finishing is like getting over the flu.  The prospect of getting back to writing is like coming to the end of the wasteland and turning around for another go.

Sure, I could stop for a while; soak my feet in the cool waters of an oasis.  But I’m a writer.  I suffer from a debilitating condition that leads me to look over my shoulder at the empty dunes and turn my tattered shoes back to the wilderness.  If I don’t take that first step back, I know I will be the next victim of aftermath burnout.

All Done


So I finally finished my novel, 97k words in 33 chapters and it’s terrible.  Now I’m not being modest or self-effacing.  The book stinks in its current form.  The first ten chapters hop back and forth over a thousand years (yes really) and the last ten chapters are told from different POV characters.  But at least it’s done.

Now I can take some time away from it, work on something else for a change before the arduous task of slogging through a second draft.  I decided to devote more time to my garden and decompress.  Nothing more calming than picking berries and pruning tomatoes.

That is until my buddy sent me a picture.

You could say I inspired him to start a garden.  He cleared up a small plot and got started after Memorial Day.  I snickered at his late start, his naiveté, then I get this picture.

Friend's bounty

He’s getting this every week in his garden and it’s his first year.

Meanwhile, aside from some stinking berries, I’ve gotten nothing from my garden.  Okay, so maybe my garden had some hiccups, a late frost, too much rain, aggressive birds, squirrels and rabbits eating everything in sight.  But this is my seventh year, the golden year for gardeners where all the other years of toil pay off with a bountiful harvest.

Maybe I’m over reacting.  I’ve got a lot of stuff that’s growing slow and steady, also I’ve got even more things that take a few years to produce.  All my hopes are on a late harvest (and the ground drying up).

It’s funny how patient I can be with my garden, how forgiving I can be over a tree that hasn’t given me any fruit in seven years.  Next year is always going to be better.   When it comes to writing, a couple years seems way too long to spend on one project.  Hell, there are tens of thousands of writers that knock out a novel every November.  So, why is it so scary to plan on finishing something in two or three years?

The short answer is : it might suck and I’d have wasted years on crap.

Writers like gardeners take chances.  Chances that our labor may be in vain.  Chances that people won’t like our efforts.  And chances that we may reap more than we ever expected.  We can’t get caught up in what our friends are doing, or some success story we read on the web.

All we can do is finish the work no matter how much it sucks because it will be better once we are trult all done.