Sometimes, when I’m gardening, I feel guilty about not writing. When I’m writing, I sometimes feel guilty about not gardening. And I don’t mean having fun in my yard, though I love to do that too. I mean gardening for work, for money, my day job. I own a tiny (as in me) gardening business where I either design a garden or part of a garden or clean up a garden. This business is a blessing for a writer. I schedule my jobs. I take a free day when I need to. I have flexibility. But in summer, when it’s hot and sunny and there are many clients (also a blessing) waiting, gardening work comes first. Writing comes second. And unfortunately second often means rarely.
I’ve learned to forgive myself for this. In January, when it’s cold and rainy and no one’s interested in getting into the natural world, I have as many hours as I need to sit and work on a manuscript. But in July, I’m beholden to the (mostly lovely) homeowners who hire me. I’m combing the nurseries for a pretty threadleaf nandina, pulling shotweed and morning glory, trying to find a place to park my SUV full of tools in the city. It’s all about boots and dirt and following the shade as it moves around a house. My tarps fill with plant material as I listen to podcasts. My plastic containers empty as I plant shrubs and perennials. Life as a gardener is active and exhausting. And my confession here? I love it.
Forgive me Elizabeth Gilbert, Ann Patchett, maybe even Jess Walter, whoever said this: Don’t feel guilty about not writing, the life you’re living is the material for your next book. I think it was Elizabeth Gilbert. This is such a precious quote. An established, woman, writer giving license to writers not to write. Acknowledging life gets in the way. We’re not all James Joyce with a bunch of kids and a wife who dutifully types up our manuscripts every day. We’re working men and women, in the modern era, an era where corporations work their employees harder than ever and kids are expected to be treated like little royalty. And then don’t even mention the worries of global warming and terrorism. Our 21st century has a multitude of pressures that no other century has had to deal with. The complexity and struggles of regular life are tougher than ever before.
So I urge writers, yes, to write. You will produce work when you devote the time. But if you can’t, don’t waste energy beating yourself up about it like I sometimes do. There’s a whole world out there and you need to first live in it and make money in it so you’re able to give it the gift of your stories.