… is worth doing badly.
For a while last winter, my world had been ice-covered for so long that I was desperate for green. Every seed went from my kitchen cutting board into soil. Squash sprouted. So did tomato seeds. Lemons did less well.
I’ve sprouted uncounted avocado seeds. You’ve known the drill since grade school: shove three or four toothpicks around the seed, suspend it half-way in a glass jar of water, discard the resulting vine when the water becomes mold-encrusted. But could I grow an avocado tree to maturity indoors?
Why not? The seed was certainly big enough to have potential, so I popped it into a pot. When I told my coworker from El Salvador that I was growing an avocado tree in my living room, she laughed. “Do you know how big an avocado tree is?” No, actually, I didn’t.
The seed sprouted, but the tree languished from too little light. Spring arrived and the days got longer and brighter. The tree grew. Grew. Grew some more. Dropped leaves all over my carpet. I cut it back. It twisted and kept growing. I changed plant food. It really started growing, but by now the long trunk was bare and with all the leaves clustered at the top. Not a world-class tree growing effort, buy hey, it was healthy and I’d developed a fondness for seeing it every morning.
I’d become more involved in the process more than the product, which is a good quality for a writer to cultivate, especially a writer in her mid-career.
All writers start out with a taste for adventure. Instead of asking ourselves if we can discover the source of the Nile, we ask can I write a story? Can I finish it? Can I get it published? Can I make the next story bigger, better, faster, more publishable?
That’s when our sense of adventure may take a wrong turn. When writing becomes about meeting the next deadline, making the next sale, doing the next thing our publisher expects us to do, we remove ourselves — or are sometimes forcibly removed — from a sense that we have the freedom to do trial-and-error.
Stick to what you know. Stick to what sells. This isn’t the kind of book your readers have come to expect. Changing genres would be suicide. No one will understand what you’re trying to do. I have only so much time for writing, so I’d better use it wisely and stick to writing what will result in the next sale.
Did you notice the change in pronouns. You becomes I. No more experimenting. No more doing things badly just for the sake of trying something new. Time to throw out that mold-encrusted vine, sterilize the jar, and stay ferociously focused on my career path. What fun is that?
What are three things that you would love to try, but are afraid that you will be terrible at them? Go ahead and do them anyway. Steal minutes here and there from your serious career path to play around. Make a mess. Experiment. Make mistakes. Drop a few leaves on the carpet. Twist and grow. There is, in truth, no such thing as doing badly. There is only doing the unfamiliar long enough that it becomes a part of your life, like the avocado has become part of our living room. The more artistic adventures you have, the better your art becomes.
As for the avocado tree, I realized about the middle of summer that something wonderful was happening. Mama avocado was having a baby. Baby is now two-and-a-half feet tall, green, and growing straight and true. It’s going to be interesting to see if I can keep both of them alive over the long, cold, dark winter. I certainly intend to try, even if I do it badly.
Quote for the week:
Always keep some of your creative energy for play. Today’s playground could well turn into future sales.
~Barbara Hambly, science fiction, mystery, and fantasy writer