Gardening for Beginners

I’ve been neglecting my garden recently. I don’t mean my actual garden, though I most definitely have been neglecting that too. It’s littered in chewed-up bits of rubbish. Seeds planted months ago have been left to huddle, unloved, in cold soil. The dog seems to have dug an escape tunnel into next door, and I hadn’t even noticed.

No, I meant I’ve been neglecting the internal ‘garden of the mind’. Oh God, I can’t believe I used that phrase, but it was a metaphor. Anyway. Moving on. This is supposed to be a post about the difference between being a writer ‘out there’ and a writer ‘in here’.

Right now, my book is somewhere ‘out there’. In shops. On Kindles. In people’s homes, and more importantly, in their heads. I think that’s the biggest shift for writers, and it comes long before the book is published. It’s what happens when you first show people your work, and the characters who live inside your head walk out the door, into the world. I think this was the biggest ever moment in writing for me, far surpassing selling the book or seeing it on shelves. The private became public. I threw my garden open to the public like a green-fingered member of the Women’s Institute.

I do need to be out there. Writing is my job now, and if I don’t sell my product, my business will go under. So I have to think about websites, and publicity, and PR, and doing interviews, and writing articles, and generally increasing my exposure, like an overly sunburnt Irish person on a coach trip in Majorca. Recently I feel I’ve been ‘out there’ a lot– events, signings, interviews. You end up with a fixed smile on your face, whereas my ‘writing’ expression is more like a deep frown, interspersed with gibbering panic or dances of delight when it’s going well. The writer me out there isn’t the same one who’s in here, who shuts out everything, even myself.

And I do also need to be ‘in here’. To produce my product, I have to get myself into a state of advanced concentration. I have to go away from the buzz, the chatter, the internet. There is no assembly line for writing words. They don’t come packed in cardboard boxes. If your supply lines dry up, there’s no one you can ring up and shout at. We’re all being told to be more ‘out there’ – promoting ourselves as much as possible, writing blogs, Tweeting, Facebooking, etc, and it can be amazing, like a big loud sticky party it’s hard to leave. But at some point you have to shut the door, and go into the garden, where it’s quiet, and if you listen carefully you might hear the seeds you planted trying to grow. Of course, having just spent this time writing a blog post on why I need to go away from such things, I’m aware there’s an irony here. Does it count as switching off if no one sees you do it? Like, what is the sound of an unread blog? So enjoy the party. Tweet as if no one is following. Facebook like you don’t have a Friend request from your dad. Blog like there’s no such thing as the libel law. Then flip over and act like the world’s biggest introvert, twitching if a shadow so much as falls on you as you’re writing.  It’s not easy. I’m still looking for the balance myself and I probably always will be. Now, where did I put those gardening gloves?