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Weeding your Writing Garden

Weeding your Writing Garden

career inspiration mindset motivation Mar 06, 2024

In mid 2021, after spending six months working on a sixteen page capstone paper for my degree, I took a writing break – just until I was settled at my new job.

In late 2021, when I found out I was pregnant with twins and was barely making it through the day without a nap and nausea, I decided to give myself a little more time before starting a second draft.

In mid 2022, after being thrown from the frying pan and into the fire when my sweet boys arrived early and I started a crash course in motherhood, I figured that a few more weeks couldn’t hurt.

In early 2023, when I felt acclimated to the chaos that comes with raising children that are carbon copies of yourself, I started writing again.

And I sucked.

 

 

It was an absolute garbage fire of an attempt. It read more like a dozen plot ideas splattered across the page Jackson Pollock style. The word choice was like a third grader using a thesaurus. There wasn’t a wisp of grammar or syntax in sight.

Even in the mire of sucky writing, the moment I nearly quit was when I realized not only was my writing subjectively bad, but it was objectively worse

The spiral was swift and deep. Clearly I was going to need to completely relearn everything. It had taken me a decade to get to where I had been and here I was at square one. How was I going to find time to relearn writing when I was barely finding time to eat?

None of the writers I followed on social media talked about regressing. Few even talked about taking breaks, and I suddenly understood why. I was alone in the act of taking a break from my writing because it was obviously what had caused me to lose my skill. Why hadn’t I realized why no one else talked about it?

 

 

And so I wrote rarely and little and refused to look at older, finished projects…until, very suddenly, what I’d written didn't resemble Jackson Pollock. Having doom spiraled as deep as I had, the shift in my writing skills was not only completely unexpected, but obviously temporary.

Except it wasn't. The next thing I wrote made sense too. And the one after that was something I thought about maybe, possibly showing someone.

 

I was left with a single question:

 

The questions nagged at me. What had happened? Why had my writing suddenly been so bad?? And how had I fixed it???

And after a year of questions, I finally have an answer.

 

The writing garden

 

My mother-in-law has a garden. Every year, she grows a variety of vegetables and annual flowers, surrounded by fruit trees and perennial plants that bloom each year. Every year, she harvests her vegetables for recipes and cuts her flowers for vases and gathers her fruit for preserves. Every year, she clears away the stems and roots of the vegetables and annual flowers and watches snow cover her leafless fruit trees.

And every year, when spring comes, she pulls the weeds that grew beneath the snow and finds her garden waiting there for her.

 

A writer will have seasons filled with fresh stories and colorful imagery and seasons of frozen manuscripts and waiting for feedback and seasons of weeding through ideas and clearing away the build-up. Seasons are an expected and healthy part of the process.

ALSO: Why Writing Routines Suck

Weeds build up beneath the snow, and ideas build up during a break.

 

Weeding your writing

 

Looking at “bad writing” as weeds creates a clear path to return to the healthy writing habits and skills that were present before winter. All you need to do is pull the weeds or, in the case of writing, get whatever has built up out of the way.

What weeding your writing looks like is going to depend largely on what sort of weeds were able to grow. For me, idea weeds – or Jackson Pollock plots – are the first thing that chokes my writing. Even when giving myself space and permission to not write, I think about writing and, often, come up with plot or scene ideas that I don’t have the energy or time to write. Another weed bramble I fall into is what I call the trope hoard. I gather tropes and metaphors and relationship dynamics that I want to include in my writing some day.

The problem is that these ideas are still there when I start writing again, and they can clutter up my writing when I try to shoehorn them in where they don’t belong. 

The methods I use to clear away my weeds most often are (1) Jackson Pollocking through as many flash fictions as it takes, (2) writing out all the scenes I thought too much about when I wasn’t writing, even if they’re little one off paragraphs that don’t connect to anything I’ve written before or anything I plan on writing later, or (3) writing one-shot AUs of my own characters or others that fit the tropes and dynamics on my mind.

You need to give yourself permission to get it out of your system.

 

The spring thaw

 

Unfortunately, finding your way through the Spring Thaw isn’t as simple as just learning how to clear away your personal brand of writing weeds. Fortunately, the complicated parts boil down to not killing yourself while you’re weeding.

My unconscious action plan, which my children regrettably inherited, seems to involve very little thinking. Consequences? Never met her.

 

It’s an attitude that rarely benefits me, but will almost always benefit you, dear reader, because I found all the worst things to do so that you don’t have to. So let’s talk about what you should do when returning to writing.

 

Drop the schedule

 

When returning to writing, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to immediately restart the schedule you left behind. Whether it’s because you need time to get comfortable at a keyboard again or because you’ve experienced a big enough shift in responsibility that you don’t have as much time as before, there will be days that don’t fit into a schedule.

ALSO: The Part Time Writing Schedule

Create your schedule as you find where you’re comfortable now instead of trying to force yourself back into the schedule that worked before.

 

Nix the expectations

 

Word counts. Time quotas. A full plot. Throw it all out the window.

Pushing yourself too far, too fast, can leave you flat on your face before you even find your footing again. Start with trying to write a little more today than you did yesterday, and a little more tomorrow than today, but let it go if you miss a day.

It is more important to consistently try than to consistently do.

 

Stop the comparisons

 

 

Stop comparing where you are to where you were.

It will take time to clear away the weeds and start writing the way you were before. If you spend half your writing time comparing what you’ve written today to what you wrote before, you’re more likely to throw away today than you are to repeat yesterday.

 

A perennial habit

 

A plot isn’t linear, and neither is returning to writing.

There will be days where your writing suddenly sucks again. There will be days where the words flow in ways they never did before. There will be days where somehow you manage both the best and the worst line you’ve ever written.

Embrace the upward spiral, because returning to writing is something you’ll need to do again and again and again.

 

The winter blues

 

If you take nothing else from the words I’ve written, take this: you are not special in sucking. Every single writer struggles to get back into writing after a break.

ALSO: Kill the Impostor

Few people are comfortable discussing their inability to do something that they love, and that creates the illusion that few people struggle, which is categorically untrue.

Whatever your neighbor’s garden looks like, do not let the weeds fool you into thinking your garden is dead.

 

FAQ

Do I need to write every day?

Absolutely not. Life is complicated enough without bullying yourself for not following advice that doesn’t work for everyone anyway. 

ALSO: The Correct Way to Let Writing Rule Your Life

 

How do I recover from a writing slump?

Slowly, and with patience. Jumping back into the deep end can shock the system and leave you floundering. Start low, in word count and expectations, and climb higher every day.

 

What is a writing break?

A writing break is a willing – or unwilling – period of time when an author doesn’t write. A writing break is not something that makes an author less of an author. 

ALSO: When to Take a Break

 

How do I start writing again after years?

Badly, and then better. Just like a garden is choked by weeds when left unattended, the writing brain can be choked by a backlog of words. Clear the weeds before planting the seeds.

 

 


Elizabeth Miles
Written for The Plottery

I’m Elizabeth Miles, but you can call me Lizzie! I am a full-time stay-at-home mom and part-time author during breaks from chasing down over-confident toddlers. Mystery, romance, and fantasy are my favorite genres for both reading and writing. You can find me on Instagram (@authorlizziem) and TikTok (@authorlizziemiles)!

 

 

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