The Writing Sutra

I wrote a thing recently about myself as the gardener of my own creativity. The first draft was rather too earnest. With tongue gently in cheek, it became a fruitful metaphor…

Imagine that your writing practice is a garden, and you are the gardener. You plant seeds, see what grows, do a bit of weeding, give things space and time to flower or fruit. Like writing down one word and then another. You live a quiet, simple life in your garden: pottering about, doing what you feel needs to be done, when it needs to be done. You don’t seek fame or glory. There is no ego. Your drafts, like your flowers, flourish by themselves. An hour or so each day is enough, maybe a bit more at weekends, or when time allows. Whatever the weather, you’re out there doing something – gently continuing, in a state of Zen-like calm.

You have embraced impermanence. Plans and expectations are limiting. You let them go. You have an overall vision for the garden, but nothing is under your control. Some things will take root and flourish, then suddenly die: attend to your breath, the frustration passes. Other times something wonderful flowers and you have no idea what it is and no memory of ever having planted it. Accept this as a gift from the universe; try not to take too much credit.

Work with the landscape as it is, the soil as it is. Accept where the sun falls and where it does not. In the shade, plant things that enjoy the shade. Listen to advice, seek inspiration, exchange seeds and cuttings with other gardeners – but discover for yourself, through humble trial and error, what works for you and what does not. Know yourself. Know your limits.

Spend much time reflecting on the way that everything is connected. The tomatoes in your vegetable patch attract the bees that pollinate the marigolds that repel the bugs that would eat your tomatoes. Likewise, your writing projects will thrive in a strange harmony you’ll never fully understand. Just don’t get in the way. Allow your writing to simply happen, emerging like blossom on a spring day. No editing. No deadlines. No effort.

Never think that anything is or can be finished. There might be a fistful of carrots for the kitchen, some tulips for the table. But the joy of the garden is in its tending, in the work of the gardening. Seek no other reward. Do not boast about the size of your cucumbers. Shun the local horticultural show. Likewise, keep your drafts to yourself. Submit nothing to magazines or agents. Remember, all you want is the simple joy of being in the garden, getting dirt under your fingernails. It’s the pottering about that matters. Put that on Instagram.

There will be setbacks. Occasionally, Tinkerbell, the neighbour’s cat, will shit among your lettuces. This also needs to be accepted. Perhaps one day that same neighbour will give you a basket of delicous plums from her tree. You like plums, but they will not grow in your garden.