A spot of gardening: Every writer should do it from time to time

There are two parts of the year when I think about gardening. Let’s be clear from the start: I am no gardener. I have a smallish garden at the back of the house and my criteria are that any plants should come up every year with no real help from me; they should be low-maintenance throughout the summer; they should not spread out to invade every other bit of space around them; they should preferably not all die off completely in the winter leaving the soil looking like a muddy trench; there should be a range of bright and cheery colours that show up at different stages throughout the year; I expect them to just get on with life throughout baking sun or torrential downpours. Beyond that I don’t need to know their names (They never ask mine). Nor do I want to be worrying about specialised diseases, or how they are going to propagate themselves.

I ‘garden’ twice a year:  in February/March and in late September/October. This involves general tidying up; clearing out dead stuff; splitting and separating to make effective use of what is there; and light digging so that the hardware of the soil can give best chance to the software of the plants. That is it really (except for occasional pulling off dead flowers and the occasional watering) and it is enough to give me hours of pleasure just sitting and looking at the variety of greenery and flower-heads throughout the year.

When I ran a major project we applied the same analogy to the office. A couple of times a year I would suggest that we did a bit of ‘gardening’: generally tidying away all the bits and pieces that had been left lying around for some time, clearing out old unwanted paperwork, throwing away all the pens that no longer worked, making sure the systems all worked, updating things where necessary, renewing subscriptions, refreshing policies, archiving things properly, and so on.

As a writer I have carried the same logic across to what I do now. It is September, so time for a spot of ‘gardening’. This is going to take a couple of days but I feel that it will set me up for the winter. The list includes:

  • Checking that virus protection is up-to-date
  • Optimising the computer by removing all ’broken’ bits of software
  • Checking everything I need is backed-up and having a schedule for regular backing-up of content
  • Permanently deleting all emails that are no longer needed
  • Weeding out the various work-in-progress versions of files – keeping just the final version
  • Going through the numerous memory sticks and rationalising the content
  • Looking to see if any bits of the website need rearranging – close down some content and open up new links between things that have been randomly put up there
  • Seeing what can be done to further reduce Spam comments
  • Looking at the promises I might have made and checking that I have done all I said
  • Going back and reminding myself of why I think I am doing it all; back to check against driving principles; back to core purpose and motivations
  • Unsubscribing from no-longer-needed newsletters; cutting down on input
  • Scanning my list of people I follow on Twitter and pruning out any that don’t fit with what I want to be doing over the next year or two
  • Thinking about the costs of maintaining what I do, and any new activities I might want to do, and where any money might come from
  • Refreshing the Framework I work within and pushing it outwards to see what new bits of interest I might come across

I do this kind of thing around this time of year and I do it all again in the early spring. It is time away from actual writing but it gives me some satisfaction and a bit of reassurance that I am not going to be spending time constantly going back over trying to decide which bit of editing is the latest version, scanning back through endless emails to find the one I need, or having a computer that gets slower and slower under all the unnecessary stuff on it.

So time to get on with it. Where’s that spade and those secateurs?


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