Friday, April 15, 2011

Surveying the Orchard - Step One, Two & Three

It turns out that planning an orchard is something that other people have been doing a while. I know a lot about this field (of writing) and have been growing saplings (ideas that can produce fruit year after year) for a little while now. I've dug some holes (research and development), too, but I'm not sure if I'm putting them in the best place and I thought I'd go back to my extended metaphor, the heirloom peach orchard and see if I can find anything out about how to begin again.

Part of going forward is really knowing how this "land" was used in the past. Therefore, a quick review is in order because I don't want to start wallowing there. What I can say is that the field has been half-used. There have been lots of starts and stops. I used to plant ideas that were one-offs, more aimed towards immediate gratification, and quick return. I wrote what was in front of me a lot, what I might actually get paid for right away (copy, content, game scripts, writer-for hire scripts, and the like), rather than what I really wanted to write about or spend very much time on. I figure this is like planting cherry tomatoes. They can certainly be tasty but you have to be massively prolific to get a real return on them over time. My great uncle was a farmer in South Texas, I called him Pretty Pa, and we covered fields of tomatoes in a pick up truck, over the course of an entire afternoon. My field is not for that kind of farming. It is a quaint little lot...that's me...that was somewhat flooded so that, often, when I have tried to plant the longer term, regenerating crops, I've gotten too emotional to fix what needed to be fixed. I've spent some time working on that, but I imagine that there is still labor to do in that area. 

Moreover, this is not an established orchard -- it is a field. I’m starting from scratch. I’ve plowed under the cover crop of rye to nurture the soil. I’ve metaphorically fertilized. You know I’ve fertilized…grin. I’m working on the irrigation. It’s on a hill, facing sort of West (thinking of the second half of my life at this point), afternoon sun, and a gentle slope (because I have some amazing support from my husband and children). Let’s say this is Lot 46, for the years I’ve been on earth so far, and let’s call the Orchard something that evokes a storied place…hmmm. Kosmic Egg doesn’t suggest a place but a thing, so it will be something else that suggests the work and reward of a healthy orchard, a place of great vision and plenty. It seems too obvious to me to call it “Abundant Orchard” because somehow I feel like I will have to trick the Universe into giving over some abundance to me. Isn’t that telling? It would be a courageous statement, but it has no sense of humor for me to embrace it. Perhaps “The Problems & Opportunities Orchard” would be most honest.

I never thought I would have so much trouble naming an imaginary place! The orchard is for heirloom peaches that are metaphoric for very special, classic, engaging and dense stories that we see, hear, and tell year after year. Yes, I’m thinking about stories that we’ve inherited, that are vital still in their retelling because I am of the school of thought that says all stories have been told before in some other way. The trees are the production method. How many peaches can a healthy peach tree produce? Certainly, that must be a copious number. I imagine that these are the stories, like seeds, that passed on from village to village, tribe to tribe, and scribe to scribe until they became a lexicon of storied knowledge. This is a new orchard, but it is growing heirloom peaches. You see? Therefore, I believe I will simply call it “Storyteller’s Orchard” and hope you know what I mean.

Another question for the survey is how visible is this orchard from the beaten path? Actually, to begin with, it probably won’t look like much, but you’ll be able to see its progress, metaphorically, from here, and maybe someday there will be more traffic (I hope! Invite your friends to follow me at as I am more established. I feel somewhat like a kid who can’t decide whether I should cover my work until it is finished or if I should let the other kids look over my shoulder. Those are my trust issues, having come from Hollywood where we’ve seen multiple films made on the same subject or same genre every year (i.e. ants, space, dreams), and so I’m working under a blanket for now. My readers will have to accept the metaphoric exploration as a substitute secret, until my trees are little sturdier. However, once established, I do so hope that Storyteller’s Orchard will produce peaches no one can resist.

Next entry: Wildlife! 


Steven E. Belanger said...

I have a ton of saplings and holes in my orchard, too. I would love to have the time and the organization to consistently water them all. I have to water them all at once because I'm afraid that if I just focus on one, and don't water all the others, then they'll all die. This probably isn't true, but it's how I feel.

Amanda Morris Johnson (aka Amanda Morris Conti) said...

Thanks Steven! The flood method of emotional feeding of writing projects certainly has its merits when time is limited. I worry that my writing orchard will become more a swamp, though, so somehow I'm learning to regulate. Though I just wrote a dry poem and a flooded poem and see that it's an effort to get everything the proper care, as you say. Grin.

Amanda Morris Johnson said...

But, additionally, these are periferal plants in the orchard. The trees, especially new saplings, require extensive care. If you think of irrigation, water, as the flow of emotion in writing, well, it is as important as water to a new tree. You absolutely have to know how you feel about the point of your stories, or projects, or series, or characters. All of them. If you just stick to the flood, drought plan you may not get fruit because the evolution of the tree/project will be start and stop. Think of it this way: a fruit tree needs 3-5 years just to produce fruit. Big projects must have that kind of commitment. If you flood them at the beginning, you'll burn out dryly, even to the point of frying the whole thing in the end. Be so careful...:)