“Isn’t it the wrong time of year to prune roses?” said my neighbour, two weeks ago, as we both took our bins out. “Should I be pruning mine too?” he asked with the willingness of an eager apprentice. He is a long-time househusband. He has run his house and children and acted as a support person for his wife’s busy career as competently as any housewife could. However, he is not quite so happy with his garden. Although respectable, he says it is lacking in comparison with other gardens he admires.
“No, don’t prune your roses,” I said. “It’s still summer. It’s hot. It’s the wrong time of year but you know me; I garden by instinct.” I had been on a big gardening clean-up which followed on from a big, post-Christmas, house clean-up. My current garden is small but, for many years, I had a big garden. As my children are spread out in age, I learned to garden quickly and efficiently because of the time constraints of having young children. Most of the time, it worked. What also worked was to keep planting things. Whatever grew; great. Whatever died; take no notice. Keep moving forward. Remain true to what your personal preferences are in gardens but don’t be demanding and rigid about what the garden should look like. Go with the flow; not only of the seasons but also of the way a garden will take on a life force of its own.
As the neighbour and I parted company, I added by way of explanation about my untimely and severe mass pruning, “I want all the plants to get a second life in Autumn.” He was about to re-ask if he should do the same thing but then realised we were on a circular route. He did recall with humour how one of our older Greek neighbours would get his chainsaw out to prune the roses and would spend five minutes wildly hacking off all the branches. Job done. I asked about his resulting roses.
“Beautiful,” said my neighbour. “He had bloody beautiful roses.”
He frowned as if to complain that the gardening gods were neither logical nor consistent. He then shrugged and decided to go with the conventional gardening scheduling rather than my irregular one. We both knew he would be watching my garden to decide upon the success or failure of the unconventional method.
To me, success in writing is similar to success in gardening.
- Stay true to yourself and your own loves. Say what you have inside you. Say it bravely and with good intent.
- Keep planting. Take only momentary notice of what dies. Use failures and flops as learning devices. Trust your own destiny.
- Write instinctively, disregarding what others think or do. Your instincts may be quite different to other people’s.
- Don’t be egotistical. Don’t look for fame. Share your work simply because you want to share. Don’t say, “I’m not interested in fame. I share out of the goodness of my heart!” Show by your consistent actions that you are interested in sharing for the benefit of others’ well-being. Frankly, all egos are interested in fame so don’t be too hasty in declaring your innocence of it, unless you truly are. And as the saying goes, Those who know, don’t say. Those who don’t know, say.
- Do your best. Sometimes your best will be better than at other times. Do your best, one day at a time. That’s good enough.
- Give something of value. Be honest. The first person your writing should be valuable to is you. After looking at something you have created, ask yourself if YOU think it is good. If you don’t think it’s good then make something else that corresponds to your highest sense of what you feel you are capable of creating at this point. Don’t compare yourself to author, Paulo Coelho, who has the highest following of Facebook authors with a thirty-million-strong audience. Give what you are authentically capable of giving. Don’t pester your friends on social media for support. They may support you, out of pity, but pity does not a writer make. If you are asking for support from your friends (no matter how you phrase it) then you are not in a position to be giving them anything. They are giving to you. Better to have two genuine followers of your work on any platform than five hundred friends who feel sorry for you. If all you honestly have to give, at this stage, is appreciated by only two independent followers then accept that, be grateful, and grow yourself in any and every way you can think of, with humility.
- Enjoy your writing as you would your garden. It’s never finished. It’s ongoing. So relax and enjoy the beauty and life which is in it today, right where it is at. You don’t know who else may get value from something you have said or done. Frequently, many more people than you realise are blessed by something you do. It spreads out like a ripple in a pond. We only get told a small fraction of the effect we have on other people. When we get the occasional compliment, we can take it as a reminder that there are people out there benefiting from something we have invested ourselves in.
- Be careful of your peers. No offence to writing groups but that is the last place I would want to go for help with my writing success. Like all peer groups, the bottom line is that they are fine so long as you are no threat. If you are intending to do well in your chosen career, I would be very careful about spending too much time with peers who are struggling. Writers, like most groups of artistic people, put enormous effort and great love into their work for, generally, very little in return. The ego, no matter how sweetly it dresses itself, cannot help but feel that one person’s success is another opportunity taken away from it in a seemingly intensely competitive market.
- Likewise, against common opinion, I am a little sceptical about agents and publishers. They are surely doing a far better job than I could in a difficult business but I have several concerns. Many people who work in publishing are there because they would like to be successful writers themselves but they couldn’t make it work. This tells me that while they are capable of seeing what has been successful in the past, they usually cannot easily see what could be successful in the future. If they could, many of them would be writing it themselves. Make an effort with the publishing industry, of course, because it may be for you. However, if you have tried and gotten nowhere (which will be the case for the vast majority of writers) then disregard that path and form your own. With today’s technology, there is no reason not to and every reason to. The world is accessible as never before and it will only become more so at a rapid rate. Besides, in such a struggling industry as publishing in a fast-changing world of communication, do you even want to be involved with conventional publishing? Maybe, maybe not. Did you know that for every ten books publishers produce; seven will be a financial burden, two will break even, and one will hopefully make enough of a profit to support all the others. You certainly don’t want to be the author losing money for your publisher or even the one breaking even. But do you want to be the one supporting everyone else? Maybe, maybe not. The world is changing, We can too.
This morning, two weeks after speaking with my neighbour about the untimely pruning, I glanced at my roses and noticed that, indeed, soft little shoots were bravely making their way through hardened, dead-looking wood. In no time at all, the bare wood will be covered with fresh life. My neighbour will be sneaking peeks at it, telling himself that there must be a secret code of gardening that he is not privy to and next time he will do whatever I do. That could, quite possibly, end in the death of his underperforming but beloved roses!