Is Gardening "Very Hard Work"? by Claudia Mills (November theme)

We've been sharing wonderful thoughts about gardening/harvesting as a fruitful metaphor for writing children's books. My jumping off point for this point today is a famous children's story about a garden from Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad Together.

 Toad is envious of Frog's fine garden. Frog accepts Toad's compliments: "It is very nice, but it was hard work." Toad decides to try his own hand at gardening with flower seeds given to him by Frog. But Toad's repeated command, "Now seeds, start growing!" doesn't work. Instead, Frog convinces Toad that he has actually made his poor seeds too frightened to grow. Toad now embarks on a program of seed-reassurance: on successive nights he reads stories to his seeds, sings songs for his seeds, reads poems to his seeds, and plays music for them. Finally, he falls asleep exhausted only to wake up and find that his seeds have sprouted at last. "You were right, Frog," Toad tells his friend. "It was very hard work."

Now, as readers, even as young readers, we know that most of Toad's work here was completely unnecessary. The stories, songs, poems, and music didn't make his seeds grow. What did? Sun, rain, soil, and patient waiting.

So here is my question for us as writers. How often are we like Toad, wearing ourselves out with work that didn't need to be done in the first place? Now, it's true that we can't just produce our stories by commanding our story ideas, "Now ideas, start growing!" And it's also true that Toad's garden is going to take a lot of weeding and watering, and more weeding and watering, before those sprouted seeds flower, the part of the story Lobel leaves out. But I think sometimes we make our writer lives harder than they need to be, when we could just write on faithfully, accumulating word after word with patient waiting, letting sun, rain, and soil - the creative process - do its thing.

I'm thinking about distractions like second-guessing ourselves, letting that nagging editorial voice intrude on the process too soon, polishing text that isn't even ready for major revision yet, procrastinating on a project that needs to get done by starting another one that doesn't, doing revisions with an ax when all we needed was a scalpel, sharing ideas with people we already know will be critical of them, comparing ourselves to others. All those things that make our seeds too frightened to grow, and so "necessitate" endless rounds of pointless seed-reassurance.

What if we just planted, watered, weeded, and waited? And then celebrated our "nice gardens" like Frog and Toad.


  1. Love this...wouldn't it be amazing if all we had to do was "Book, be done!" But then...EVERYONE would be writing books...

  2. This was such a helpful post! I'm on the starting end of a new novel and yesterday was basically doing the equivalent of yelling at my seeds to start growing. I have a new perspective as I write today. Thank you!

  3. Oh, wow. This is so insightful. Seriously.

  4. Thanks, guys! Darlene, that's exactly what my son's sax teacher told him at his very first lesson: "Remember, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it."


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