Slice of Life: Sprouting Words


Words sprout from my pen
like weeds in my garden,
crowding my thoughts
and obscuring what I really
want to say.

If I keep at it long enough,
will I one day know
how to show and not tell
as easily as I can spot
a purple coneflower
hidden among the grasses?

I’ve been gardening for a long time. Some of my earliest memories are of helping my grandmother in her garden. Both of my grandmothers were expert gardeners, and they taught me the names of favorite flowers and the basics of gardening. Many of my peonies, iris, and poppies came from their gardens, and I feel confident when I’m caring for these hardy plants.

My writing is a different story. I didn’t keep notebooks when I was growing up, and I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. In fact, for a while I seriously considered majoring in horticulture. Although I keep at my writing, it’s easy to become frustrated and want to give up. In the garden, I know which weed to pull. In my writing, I go back and forth, changing this word and deleting that one, until all that’s left is an unintelligible pile of gibberish.

And yet, from time to time, I see a glimmer of hope. A turn of phrase that is good, not just one I think is good because I wrote it. I feel something, some awareness or knowledge that I can’t even name, begin to take root in my brain. The gardener in me knows I have to nurture this fragile shoot. It needs watering and feeding. It needs the right amount of sunlight. This nascent writing requires the same kind of attention I give my newly sprouted plants. If I leave them for too long, they’ll be choked out by dandelions and other hardier plants.

In his memoir Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music, Glen Kurtz writes that practicing is “a process of continual reevaluation, an attempt to bring growth to repetition…that teaches us the sweet, bittersweet joy of development, of growth, of change.” The process of growing and changing isn’t easy, but the rewards are many. So I’ll keep practicing as faithfully as I tend my garden. Who knows what will sprout up?

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

10 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Sprouting Words

  1. I love that early part about spotting the corn flower, & then you carried your expertise to the writing. Sad to say, I suspect even the great writers thought these thoughts, asked themselves “which weed to pull”. And I also think that means you’ve become a writer, because you’re looking. Thanks, Catherine, great post!


  2. Such a powerful post that I’m sure many of us can relate to! You became a gardener through your years of practice. Our writing develops in much the same way. Maybe instead of looking at how far you have to go, consider how far you’ve come already. Keep writing!


  3. Catherine,
    I had to reread your opening because I was expecting “blooms” to sprout, not weeds! Did I read that right? And then as I continued, the gardening metaphor brilliantly described your struggle as a writer! I was reminded of author Judith Viorst who visited my classroom and told me students, “My job should not be WRITER but REWRITER because that is what I spend the majority of my time doing.” Thanks for your honest writing today! And I’m a little jealous of your garden! But with practice, I guess I can improve my garden as well as my writing!


  4. Catherine,
    I loved every word of this post; as I suspect I would admire your beautiful peonies and poppies.
    Writing is hard work and the results are often not as rewarding as that garden. It may be nurturing the tender sprouts of writing and the writer may be the most challenging part of your writer’s life.


  5. I loved your metaphor. Gardening can be just as challenging (if not more so) than writing, but with continued practice we can pull out the weeds from our words. Thanks for sharing.


  6. Love the analogy you use. So many times I find myself pulling at weeds to find the words I want to say. Admittedly, sometimes the weeds take over.


  7. I, too, have recently been pondering the similarities between gardening and writing. I have some notes jotted down and some day I will actually write about it. Just like some day I’ll get the weeds out of my garden! Thanks for sharing!


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