Spring is finally sticking around my house, and more than my mood and dress is affected by the new season. Things are blooming outdoors, and I love to see the shoots and stare in awe at the blossoms. While I spend more time looking out my window at the lovely new green growth, however, my gardening duties can translate to ways of improving the harvest for my writing business in the upcoming months, too. Not just pitches for gardening articles, but ways to improve my writing business.
See this lively little garlic clove? Herbs and vegetables, like potatoes and onions too, are great at letting us still use them even if we’ve let them sit on the counter too long. We can plant the potatoes and let the ‘eyes’ produce a new crop, or plant the shoots of onions and garlic and have great seasoning for our fall stews and sauces. In this same way, writers can use snippets cut from stories, or ideas reworked in a new way to produce new sales. Here’s an example:
- I learned one of my local museums was welcoming a world class exhibit of French Impressionist paintings in a few months. I made plans with my daughter to attend–we love these shows–but I didn’t stop there.
I immediately contacted the museum PR person for a press packet, which included slides of the pieces available for media use, and sold three stories–
- First to a local magazine that focused on the way the museum was bringing the world to our home city. One sale. That’s great, right?
- Then I let my ideas take root and contacted a regional magazine that focuses on places and events for travelers to our state, with my query tailored toward the timing of the event. Another sale.
- Next, I contacted the AAA magazine Home and Away, and added the element of where tourists in our city could stay and other attractions available at the time. Sale three!
There’s more, but this three-point example shows how reading one small blurb about an event of interest to my family landed me sales in local, regional, and national venues. I had to re-slant each article and used parts of the story in different ways, but the ‘roots’ given in my query helped keep me on-track in that respect–just like the differences in each magazine’s format helped me stay true as I chose phrases to color my writing and picked quotes to use to bring out the necessary information each publication required.
The Right Sun, Water, and Fresh Air Produce Good Things
This tiny bloom is a cutting I took last Indian summer from the camellia bush in my front garden. Though much smaller than its potential size once it becomes a camellia bush in soil outside, since it’s just roots and leaves in a bottle of water right now, I think having any size bloom is pretty darned great. This cutting wintered in the same glass it’s in now–I simply kept the cutting in a window that allowed enough sun without too much direct heat, and kept the water topped off regularly. The camellia cuttings we’ve planted outside in soil, where our geographic location can produce way too much heat and cold, often take three years before we see a bloom. With this cutting, it came the first spring. In fact, the camellia plants I have outside still haven’t shown even the hint of a bud yet.
The writing lesson I take from this is to find a good place to thrive as you write, and do all the right things to produce good work. For instance, I can write in the living room, on my laptop, with the TV going and thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner–but the writing will be more stressed, will take longer, and may not be “very pretty” in first draft form. However, the more I use my office to write, where I have a nice window that lets me dream quietly and soak up brainstorming ideas in moments of contemplation, where I can sip my tea or drink my water without the temptation of popcorn and candy (like I do when working near the television), where I can write uninterrupted by external noise when ideas strengthen, my drafts improve from the get-go, and writing work becomes more of the pleasure it should be. Stopping periodically to take walks in the fresh air also helps me brainstorm, and lets my brain re-boot as it relaxes.
Weeding Out the Old Makes Room For the New
Weeding a garden can be a thankless job, but it is critical for making your crop come in at its best. For writers, we can take two lessons from this one practice:
- Revision is like weeding out the words that weaken your product. The more work you put into revision, to keep your writing clear and focused on the outcome you want, the more fruitful your efforts. Yes, one can over-revise, just like gardeners can over-weed and accidentally pull up new plants they actually want to keep. But the more we cull those extra words and phrases that weaken our prose, like the weeds that steal nutrients from our garden, the better our final product.
- From a business perspective, a working writer must weed obsolete files and data from the storage cabinets or risk having a business too cluttered to work efficiently. The more time writers spend searching for information in their files, the less time they have to produce new writing. Like a gardener weeds regularly so the task doesn’t get too big, spend a little time every month or quarter going back into old files and cull out what you no longer need. You’ll have more breathing room in your office, and find things in the future much quicker.
Paying Attention to the Calendar Produces the Best Crop
Just like gardens must be prepared, planted and harvested at specific times during the year, the writing business has its schedules and deadlines as well. If you write fiction, scheduling how you’re going to complete a book, noting on a calendar when you’re going to start and setting benchmarks for completing the work, your writing garden will come in on schedule. If you start (plant) late, and don’t do the rest of the writing in the timely manner your schedule requires, you’ll harvest late–or not at all.
In the nonfiction world of writing articles, we live and sell by editorial calendars. Editors look for specific themes early each year. Pitch back-to-school ideas in March, not August. Query about how to save on your taxes in June–when tax people finally have time to talk to you, and you can sell an article that offers the time frame magazines need for this kind of end-of-the-year article.
These are only two examples, but like a gardener needs to start preparing the soil in March, planting in April, then weeding and harvesting until around August, a writer has to start pitching at least six months before the proposed publication date of the article.
Just a few ways we can use lessons learned in other hobbies to make us better writers. Feel free to share any you’ve found in the Comments section.