Sock books and garden books

I’ve got gardening fever bad, this week. Too many old episodes of Gardener’s World, too many trips to the garden center, too many tantalizing green shoots coming out of the ground, giving me foolhardy ideas about starting my solanaceae seeds…which I did, by the way, and probably killed them all in the doing. Le sigh.

Some books are like socks and some books are like gardens. In the writing, I mean. Sock books you cast on and dutifully knit one stitch after another–maybe needing to rip back completely once or twice–until you come to the end, and then you have the sock/book. This feels like a blessed occurrence and if you’re a knitter it means you’re skillful, but if you’re a writer it probably means you don’t know what you’re doing.

That was a snarky thing to say. I won’t apologize.

Other books are like gardens. You know basically what you want. You lay plans. You order seeds and haul the supplies home; you have the tools hanging in the garage already.

And then you put it together, and it all goes to pot. Some things grow, some things don’t. Some things seem to be coming along nicely, then die. A lot of things have to be dug up and replanted due to circumstances your plans didn’t, well, plan for. There are freak storms that decimate swathes of the garden/book, blights, weeds, droughts, heat waves, frosts. A nursery sold you the wrong variety of bulbs and you don’t find out until they flower a year later. You sow your zinnia seeds in the wind and they’re all blown away…and you’re filled with a million restless questions like “what IS this ‘grit’ I keep hearing about? Is it vermiculite or is it fish gravel? Or maybe they just don’t make it in America…maybe you have to be English to get it”, and “I’m technically in zone 8 but I don’t think it’s the zone 8 anyone means when they say a plant is hardy in zone 8”.

So you move things. Replace them. Pull weeds. Learn to mulch and to set up irrigation systems. You–yes–lower your expectations about the exotic flourishes and settle for big swathes of monarda because dammit, it grows. You never have a moment’s peace in your garden. Even in a lawn chair at dusk, with a Strega and soda in hand, all you can think about are the changes that should be made.

And every spring you spend unreasonable amounts of money on plants you know won’t work. But they’re so charming in your mind.

There is no endpoint to the book/garden. It can, if you let it, be a perpetually evolving beast. Maybe a publisher buys it and you have to, half triumphantly, half regretfully, let it go. Your baby. Your project. You sweated blood for it, and now it belongs to someone else. So you start a new book/garden, regretful for the loss of the old one and no longer perfectly charmed by the idea of starting fresh…but armed with everything you learned in the last one, and still infected with springtime optimism.

And I guess that’s all right.

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6 thoughts on “Sock books and garden books

  1. Yeah, I think until authors have been through the editing process in that genre a couple of times, a book coming straight out fully formed is something to be wary of, at least until a few people try it on. Like the time I knit a hat and it was a perfect hat until I realized it was too giant for literally anyone to wear. I really enjoyed knitting it. That didn’t make it less useless.

  2. I related to you immediately when I read “too many old episodes of Gardeners’ World”. I have to stop myself watching too many at a time, and taking notes I rarely use. As an author I agree with you about knitting and gardening books. I hope mine are gardening books, but who know, only my readers can judge that.

    I’ve only now found your blog but I’ll be back to read more.

    • So glad to meet you, rhondajean! I am calling Gardeners’ World “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood for adults.” So soothing.

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