The Gardener and the Florist

by | Oct 8, 2021 | Weekly Prompt

Think of your writing practice as a garden. You have some say in how the flowers grow. You plot the general size and shape of the beds. You plant seeds that are suited to the climate and the season. You choose a location with the appropriate exposure to sunlight. You amend the soil. You think about colors. You place a careful accent: a rock or a gnome or a patch of moss. 

Much of what happens next is up to the wild: the insects, the whim of nature and weather. You tend your garden, fertilize, pruned, sure, but you don’t exactly cause the photosynthesis or guide the water in the soil up into the stalks and the leaves or whatever. I’m not a botanist, so don’t hold me to details. 

And what is the wildness, in writing? The soil is your childhood, unbidden memory, the voices in your head. Sunlight and air: culture, the zeitgeist, relationships. God, if you’re so inclined. Luck and happenstance. The insect poop of shitty experiences that fertilizes. 

Some plants don’t take root. Some seedlings don’t thrive. You replant, you try again, you recognize that you can’t always predict or plan or prescribe what will grow. 

Your garden is for you, mostly. Maybe you show it to a visiting friend from time to time, but you are the one who takes joy in the process and what results from your work, as little sprouts shoot up and blossom. 

In revision, you become the florist. You select, you cut. You find a vessel. You don’t simply shave everything off at the root and stick it in water as it is. You trim the ragged leaves away to showcase the opulence of the blooms. You create proportion and perspective. One sad little bloom has drooped so heavy that the stem is cracked. You pluck it out. Then you sell the arrangement for someone else to enjoy. 

What I want to underline is that you need the wildness and the ragged leaves in the beginning. If you trimmed them away in the garden, there would be no growth–no bud or bloom, if you didn’t let the wild take over. 

In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo–a capital R Romantic–writes about a beautiful untended garden:

The trees had bent down to the briars, the briars had mounted toward the trees; the plants had clambered up, the branches had bent down. What crawls on the ground had gone to meet what expands in the air, and what floats in the wind stooped down to what drags along the moss; brambles, branches, leaves, fibers, tufts, twigs, tendrils, and thorns were mixed together, tangled, wedded, and confounded; vegetation had celebrated and accomplished here, in a close and profound embrace, and beneath the satisfied eye of the Creator, the holy mystery of its fraternity, which is a symbol of human fraternity. This garden was no longer a garden, but a colossal thicket; that is to say, something which is as impenetrable as a forest, as populous as a city, as rustling as a nest, as dark as a cathedral, as fragrant as a bouquet, as solitary as a tomb, and as lively as a crowd.

Don’t rush to be the florist. There can be too much tending, too much water or weeding–too much the critic as you work. 

But don’t wait too long, either. Rescue the blooms before they droop and wither, before the whole thing goes to seed. Think then (and not as you plant) of the person whose home your flowers will grace, whose day they will brighten. 

The florist doesn’t curse the gardener who let the ragged leaves grow to begin with. That’s the work. That’s the wild, the raw material. There’s a reason an early draft is called rough. It must be shaped, sanded, smoothed. 

The metaphor isn’t perfect, nor is any kind of dualism. There’s room for wildness in revision, room for the radical and the rewrite. It’s a recursive process. But it mostly fits. You can’t grow a bouquet. 

Prompt

Let the wild in. Trust that, with good soil and light and water, something will grow, and until it’s grown, don’t interfere too much.