Tough Day in the Scriptorium

By Wendy Hornsby

This morning, I found myself stuck in what seemed to be an inescapable plot mire. I had done it to myself, of course. And because the deadline for this book in progress hovers on the near horizon, instead of patiently going back through the manuscript to retrace my steps and find the correct path to story salvation, I panicked, I fumed, tore at the hair—not literally—cursed my idiocy, and otherwise got nowhere with a solution for the problem. What to do? I opened the door of the Scriptorium, my office at the bottom of the house, pulled on gardening gloves and went out into the yard.

Our house was vacant for quite a while before we bought it. The yard was overgrown and needed, I thought, taming. I love to garden and Paul is a good sport about helping with the heavy parts. He’s also better than I am about knowing our limits. He called an arborist to trim the trees when I started shopping for a chain saw. Altogether, his was the better solution.

We live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Mother Lode country, an area that has two major garden problems. The first is drought, the second is voracious deer. When we first moved in, about a year and a half ago, I set about pulling weeds and clearing space to plant a garden and freshen the landscaping. Vegetables have to be enclosed by an eight-foot fence. Ornamental plants must be drought resistant and deer resistant, preferably native California plants. Fortunately, the deer don’t eat most herbs, so they can be incorporated into the landscaping.

Last year, our first year here, was a year of plant experimentation, discovering what grows and what doesn’t. This year, I’ll know better than to plant zucchini, will plant more cucumbers. Currently, I have an abundant bed of garlic and shallots that were planted in October and will be ready to harvest months ahead of schedule; we never really had winter this year, so they may be confused. The poppies I carefully planted and tended in the flower boxes around the little porch outside my office door did nothing last spring. Not one bloom. This year however, those old seeds seem to have been carried by birds or the wind out of the tidy planters and, completely on their own with no help from me, have rooted all over the back yard. I’m weeding around them and leaving them to see what happens. A carpet of poppies would be lovely.


To me, the yard is full of surprises, and sometimes magic. When I’m writing and get stuck, or just need to stretch my legs, the best way I know to get unstuck and unkinked is to go outside and pull weeds, prune something, or plant something. I always find something interesting. The previous owner had several kids, so sometimes I find bits of broken toys; a few Hot Wheels left in the crotch of a tree, a Hackysack under the hawthorn, various doll parts, and ideas for new stories.   One of the little girls must have had a big collection of plastic beads that got spilled because it’s rare when I go out into the back yard that I don’t find a bright bead or two. I put them in my pocket and later dump them onto a corner of my desk. A little treasure chest.


Among the best finds, however, are the missing parts, or broken parts, of whatever I had been writing before I threw up my hands in despair. This morning, while pulling up a patch of nasty, invasive thistles, distracted from the snit that had sent me outside, it occurred to me that if I went all the way back to a scene in the third chapter and added three lines, then the problem I was having in chapter twenty would be resolved. I could not have figured that out if I had stayed inside and stared at the computer monitor. I also found a green and a red bead and yet another blooming daffodil. Once again, rescued by the garden.



6 Responses

  1. After reading this, I’m *almost* tempted to get over my fear of outdoors, Wendy — especially “untamed” outdoors like back yards! Bugs and dirt are not my friends! To stretch my mind, I try to find a busy street, with so many stories walking by, so many words to overhear, so many windows to shop in.
    As long we have something for those stuck moments, I guess it doesn’t matter what it is!
    Lovely flowers, by the way, and I suppose that’s what makes some people able to ignore the bugs!

  2. Loved this essay, Wendy! As soon as the temps get significantly
    above 40, I’ll get out there and play in the dirt. Who knows what ideas will pop!

  3. Camille and Kirsten, we do whatever works for us. Swimming also helps me unstuck, but it’s still a little chilly for that. So I dig.

  4. Hi Wendy, I can totally relate to your archeological finds while weeding. I have a project going which consists of me collecting every archeological item I find gardening, which comes up a lot, in a big jar. So far I have marbles as well as bits of pottery that have been here since the house was built here in Seattle in 1909, the odd penny and some brass and ceramic bits of fuses. And my kids Legos etc. My plan is to wait until I have enough to make a concrete step to put in front of my shed which is basically a mosaic of all the archeological stuff. My thirty some children love it when I find bits and pieces of their childhood, and I like finding bits of Chinese pottery and weird odds and ends that people used to just ditch in the yard a hundred years ago!

  5. K K, I love the idea of making a concrete step mosaic with garden discoveries. I remember when trash was buried or burned in a back corner of

  6. …the property. What a treasure trove the old trash pit would be by now. Hmmm, wonder if I’d find any of my early stories Mom tossed out.

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