You can write, but you don’t want to

I am proud of the fact that my parents were landscape architects. They worked together as partners, which mostly seemed to work out. From them I picked up a love of the backyard outdoors. I’m also pretty good with houseplants, but I can’t draw, I have no engineering skills, I know the Latin names of no plants, and I would never offer to design a deck or even a lawn.

You can writeOne of my friends is a landscape architect, too. She approached me last year about editing a blog she was determined to write about Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the founders of American landscape architecture. She laid out her plans to publish one column a month on various aspects of Olmstead’s work and influence. In fact, she had already written the first one and sent it to me. It was excellent and I made only minor edits before sending it back for publication.

A few weeks later, I reminded her that her self-imposed deadline was approaching and I was ready to edit the next installment. A month or so after that she sent me along the blog. It was also very good, and we discussed the difficulty of writing consistently when one is busy running a business and living life.

She vowed to get back on track, however, and complete the project. I haven’t heard from her since.

I tell this story at the risk of sounding sanctimonious, but to point out what we all discover when we try to exercise new skills, particularly on a deadline.

The greatest enthusiasm can’t withstand the pressures that conspire to stop us. An enjoyable task becomes onerous. We grow sullen over the burden that presses down on us as, in this illustration, we sit at the writing table. It takes time and we don’t have it! It also requires mental energy. The research is certainly easier in today’s internet era, but writing, while it is enjoyable to have accomplished, is most often a slog. Even the smallest hint of doubt scrabbling its way into your consciousness can disable you.

That’s why my friend should take me up on my offer to help her write the column. She and I would talk about that month’s topic and she would hand over her research, or point me in the right direction. She would describe the details that make the topic important and interesting, and include personal thoughts or facts about the time she considered Olmstead in her work.

I would send her a draft and then she would edit it. We would keep to her schedule and soon we would have a year’s worth of readable columns that might break new ground, and would enlighten readers who had not heard of Olmstead and his accomplishments.

We would feel good about it. And afterward, when I asked her for advice on how to keep my ferns from dying, she could give me her expert guidance. Without it, those plants will never reach their potential.


About Paul

I grew up in Marin County, California, and moved to Connecticut to join The News-Times, a community newspaper in Danbury where I eventually served as editor for 10 years. I joined Western Connecticut State University and ran the PR and development offices. I now serve as director of community relations and public affairs. I have four kids, all with the same wife, and now run Writing Associates, a consulting service that makes writing easier for my clients.