Grow Write Guild #16: Write Dangerously


I am currently participating in National Novel Writing Month. While the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel within the month of November, I do not expect that I will write that many words, nor do I intend to write a novel. Instead, my personal goal is to create a habit around personal, fiction(ish) writing that is not about the topics of gardening or food. This type of writing scares the living crap out of me and so I tend to find ways to either avoid it, or create blocks that shut it down whenever I find myself picking up momentum.

Writing through fear has been on my mind continuously as I push my way through this often painful and frightening exercise. I have been reminded over and over of a passage from the book, “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work” by Haitian-born writer Edwidge Danticat. Back in the fall of 2011, this book inspired me to publish a personal story that I never imagined I would ever make public, certainly not here on this website about gardening.

“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.”

And also from the book:

“…creating as a revolt against silence, creating when both the creation and the reception, the writing and the reading, are dangerous undertakings, disobedience to a directive.”

It scared me to write the piece, and of course, it absolutely terrified me to publish it. My entire body was literally shaking like a leaf when I hit the “publish” button, allowing the story to move from the darkness of a file on my computer into the light of day where others would read it and possibly misinterpret it, judge it harshly, judge me for writing it. Judge me for having had that experience, which is (in the dark recesses of my mind) not the sort of experience I imagine that professional garden writers should have had. The urge to delete was strong. Two years later and I still feel uncomfortable looking back on the piece and often consider deleting it even now.

“Without darkness, nothing comes to birth, As without light, nothing flowers.” – May Sarton

A lot of which has been written about gardening seems to focus on the light side, and here was a personal experience with plants that did not fit into the mold that I thought (and often still imagine) was “appropriate” for the genre. Of course, here the directive I have been disobedient to is self-imposed, a fictional boundary that exists only in my mind. Nobody has actually said that I can’t write about difficult things in relation to gardening. And so I often wonder how many of us struggle with these self-imposed limitations? What would we learn about gardeners and the experience of gardening if more of us were willing to expose our darkness as readily as we expose the light, challenging ourselves to write the things that frighten us, even within the bright and cheerful world of pretty flowers?

Grow Write Guild Prompt #16: Write something that feels scary and/or dangerous.

Further Notes and Questions:

  • As you sit down to write, remember that you do not have to make this public if you choose not to. The point is to let your writing go in a direction you may not have previously considered or were too fearful or uncomfortable to approach. You have the choice to decide what you want to keep private.
  • I often refer to the story (mentioned above) as my genesis story… or at least one of them. This is one approach that you can take with yours.
  • If you’re having trouble coming up with something scary to write about, try and let your mind wander to an experience you’ve had as a gardener that you felt ashamed, embarrassed, or badly about.
  • Remember that what you write does not have to be jaw-dropping or boundary shaking. What feels shocking and dangerous to you may not seem like much at all to someone else. The point is to push through your own fears and/or sense of propriety to write something unexpected by your own standards.

The Grow Write Guild is a creative writing club for people who love to garden. Everyone is welcome to participate! Click over to the Grow Write Guild FAQ to learn more about it.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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9 thoughts on “Grow Write Guild #16: Write Dangerously

  1. Kudos to you Gayla for doing this hard work! You are very inspiring and I admire your courage and determination, and your honesty in sharing the struggle instead of pretending it comes easily.

  2. That’s a whole lot of honesty in one spot. I can understand why you felt/feel uncomfortable because honesty has that ability to cut through all the BS and expose itself in the most demanding way. We have been conditioned to hide our problems, our dark secrets and our eccentricities in order to conform and fit in but curiously, that’s what makes us interesting. Whatever people believe about anything your story is well crafted and it told the story incredibly well. Kudos on your “sharp knife” honesty. They say that sharp knives cut clean and heal faster. I think they might be right. I know that when I started being honest life became more real to me than it ever had before. 50 000 words? You are on! :)

    • I feel I should add that my intention was to encourage you to write something that feels dangerous or scary to put to words, not necessarily to write about an act of danger or something that is in fact dangerous. It is more about challenging fear as it pertains to writing. That said, the purpose of these prompts is to get you writing so it doesn’t matter what direction you take — I am just happy to have set the wheels in motion.

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