Advice for Writers–Inch by Inch, Row by Row

Some of you fellow folkies out there will recognize this line as part of a John Denver song entitled “Garden Song” which is, not surprisingly, about a garden. Here’s part of it:

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground

Inch by inch, row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
‘Til the rain comes tumbling down

There! Doesn’t that make you feel all mellow and good and like you want to haul out the six-strings and twelve-strings and banjos and mandolins and washtub basses and harmonicas and fiddles and mandolins and any other instrument you can think of and sing chorus after chorus until the sun is coming up? I know that’s what it does  for me, and I even had a job once.

The principle of growing a garden applies to a number of processes. I think it’s called accretion. If you add a little something to a little something else, pretty soon you have something bigger (I am so smart). Think stalagmites in Luray Caverns–a little drip of mineral-laden water, a few tens of thousands of years and voila! a stalagmite of your very own to be keep and be proud of.

I think this applies to writers in that if you write a little bit (or even a lot) each day, after a while you’ll have more. It’s just a matter of doing it–well, doing it and making sure it’s good and revising it again and again. Sounds pretty simple, even though it does take a fair amount of discipline and know-how.

I write about 1000 words each weekday on my novel, and now, after about two and a half months, I have 50,000 words, enough that I have to keep a note card on each character at this point so they’re not wearing a green dress at the beginning of a chapter and a yellow one at the end (this actually happened). In about another two and a half months, I should have a novel, which, when gone over about fifty times, should be ready to show to some people (if they’re not entirely tired of hearing about it). I don’t write quickly, but I like to think I write good. And as I do, I find my self singing with each word I add to the pile,

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground

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