Your child’s writing: Garden or weed patch?
In this fast-paced world, kids are bombarded daily with the idea that life is lived on the run: Drive-thru fast food, instant messages, and microwave mac ‘n’ cheese come to mind. Certainly, most of us can run to the store for a last-minute “anything.” Why grow your own veggies when you can pick up instant produce at the market?
Even writing, so recently epitomized by text messaging and email, has fallen prey to the tyranny of the immediate. Gone are the days, so it seems, when we mailed handwritten letters to one another. No one wants to wait for the postman anymore, let alone a tomato.
Though there’s a time and place for slap-dash communication, our kids need to learn that most writing—good writing—is coaxed into bloom through time and care. Lovingly tending his flowers and vegetables, the patient gardener understands this. The metaphor of the garden speaks clearly to writing. Let’s see what lessons we can learn.
A Tale of Two Gardens
Last year, when our daughter and son-in-law lived with us for a time, we reaped the rewards of a well-tended vegetable plot. Aromatic sage, thyme, and mint spilled from big pots. Tender lettuces and spring peas sprouted and grew, followed by zucchini and the freshest of green beans. And our assorted tomato vines produced until February (that’s Southern California for you!).
Our son-in-law, a nut for all things green and growing, nurtured that garden. He prepared the soil, sowed seeds, watered. He thinned out plants that threatened to crowd or overtake. He transplanted seedlings to a better location. As the garden flourished, he weeded, plucked snails, and staked tomato vines heavy with fruit. Thanks to his diligence and patience, we enjoyed fresh produce for months.
A year later, in that once-thriving veggie patch, three leftover spindly pepper plants eke out a sad existence in a vast plot of dry earth, alternating between states of limp dehydration and occasional perkiness. A dozen shriveled red peppers hang languidly, no one bothering to pick them because they’re so bitter—the result of an untended garden.
How Is a Story Like a Garden?
A poorly written story shares many traits with such a garden. Without nurture and care, it blooms and dies—if it blooms at all. On the other hand, a delightful nugget of prose is like a well-tended garden, with the gardener and writer sharing a common ideal: To produce fruit people want to eat—to write a paper or story people want to read—I must look at gardening, at writing, as a process that takes time and attention. I accomplish this by:
Planning the Garden
One who writes with little thought is like a foolish gardener collecting random seedlings and sticking them wherever he thinks they might grow. But a good gardener plans and dreams. During the winter months, he pores over nursery catalogs and plots out his garden, imagining orderly rows of colorful vegetables. The writer, likewise, doesn’t just casually throw words on paper like so many seeds. To avoid disorganized writing, he too plans and prepares, brainstorming as a means of gathering ideas and plotting story details.
Setting Aside Time
A productive, healthy garden doesn’t grow itself. Without care, the seeds will simply sprout and die. So the gardener spends time preparing the soil and tending to the plants’ needs. Writing, like gardening, is a process. The fruit comes in time. A good composition doesn’t write itself either. If it’s going to produce worthwhile fruit, it too needs attention; the writer must spend time planning, writing, and revising.
Thinning and Pruning
A farmer or gardener understands the danger of overcrowded plants. To take shape and thrive, a garden needs thinning, pruning, and weeding. In the same way, a paper needs to be rid of dull, vague words, unnecessary adjectives, and phrases that don’t fit. So once the ideas, like baby plants, begin to emerge, the writer must carefully thin out words and phrases that threaten to overrun or crowd his writing. He must prune his writing in order to shape it and make room for new thoughts.
As his plants begin to thrive, the gardener supports heavier vines with stakes to hold up the pendulous fruit. The writer too must support his writing with details, facts, or examples to shore up each main idea.
Attending to Dry, Barren Patches
The attentive gardener waters wisely and fills in empty spots with extra seedlings or a few cheerful flowers. Similarly, the writer looks for ways to add more color, detail, or description to his writing, filling in bare, lifeless patches of prose. He must also transplant words and sentences from one place to another and water his composition with fresh ideas.
Just as a gardener introduces an unusual gourd or flower or tries out an idea for a trellis or drip irrigation system, a good writer experiments with sentence variation, figurative language, and using a thesaurus. Both are adding color and appeal to their creations.
Your Child Is a Gardener
Was I proud to share the bounty of my vegetable garden last summer? Absolutely! Am I eager to show off this year’s spindly little pepper plants? Not a chance! So let’s recap how you can apply this little analogy to your own child’s writing.
His composition is like a garden, and he, the author, is the gardener. To prune and shape a wordy, overgrown paragraph, he must trim away unnecessary words, remove vague and weak words, and find synonyms for repeated ones. Sentences may have to be reworded or rearranged—part of the transplanting process. Likewise, if the paragraph seems sparse, he’ll need to insert more colorful, concrete words or add more information and description to fill in bare places.
So whether his writing sits like a neglected weed patch, dry and listless, or takes shape, flowers, and bears fruit under his care, teach your child how very like a gardener he really is. Help him appreciate his role in the writing process as he brainstorms and writes, edits and revises. He is, after all, growing a garden of words.
Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.