Sunflowers & Prose

Writing is hard work. It requires time, planning, dedication, and effort.

It’s like gardening, in a sense. It’s especially like gardening in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You can’t just throw seeds in the ground and walk away, expecting a lovely, fragrant, healthy garden to magically appear. It is almost year-round preparation in some cases–even Autumn sometimes needs the soil to be turned and leaves or compost worked into the ground in anticipation of Spring. I cannot speak for everyone, but I know that in this household, we spend our Winter months comparing seed varieties and reviews, now that we’ve started using more heirloom seeds. We usually make our first order of heirloom seeds in late January. And here? In Upper Michigan? Many flowers and crops cannot be direct-sown into the ground, mainly because the Spring is too cold. Peas do fine, to be sure, but many others require weeks (sometimes months) of indoor greenhouse time.

Gardening is hard work. It is never as simple as plant-water-BOOM!-A-FLOWER. Even in cases where it really is that simple (marigolds, for example), there’s always a question of where they will be planted. There’s a selection of seed. And when the flowers dry, there is collecting the seed for future planting. So even when it’s simple, it requires time and attention.

Writing really is the same way.

I’ve been contemplating recently the matter of voice. One thing my favorite authors all share in common is that they have a strong and distinct voice in their writing. Reading Lewis, I have said more than a few times in my life, always feels to me like I am sitting in his office and we are conversing about some lofty matter that he must help me get to, inch upon inch. His voice is very clear. Finding voice in your own written words can be something of a struggle. I’m sure there are writers out there who have a very natural gift, and their voice pours out of their writing without much effort, but I am definitely not one of them. My blog is mostly unedited ramble; my other writing, even letter writing, I work very hard to create and maintain my voice.

The last, oh, eighteen months have thrown me for loop after loop, and one of the tragedies of it has been silence. In many ways, I feel I’ve lost my voice. And so, I’ve been contemplating. And I’ve been struggling. And I’ve been digging deep into the fissures of my spirit to find whether there is any lingering sound of the voice I once had. Or thought I had. Or pretended to have. Or something. Maybe, I thought–maybe there would be some lingering resonance deep within.

Aaaaand there wasn’t. The sound had silenced. Complete stop.

I have been struggling, since I realized that, to find the note again. And it has been a lot of hard work. A lot of planning. A lot of editing. A lot of pruning. A lot of turning the soil. A lot of scrubbing dirt out from beneath my fingernails.

But there’s something remarkable about both writing and gardening.

You know, this year, I purchased sunflower seeds. I did. I was so excited to plant them and grow beautiful, tall sunflowers. But guess what happened? They died. (Complete stop.) After all the effort and work and desire and hope…they died. Just like that.

And then something crazy happened, which I understand has happened to many others time and again–but it was certainly a first for me!–I guess some seed fell from one of the birdfeeders in the yard. And there in front of my marigolds, with no plan of my own, without even my knowledge or care, a seed tumbled to the earth, broke itself open, dug its roots down, and blossomed a beautiful sunflower.

Without my help.


As for my writing voice…

I started a new project recently–one that I didn’t really intend to start. And before I had even determined that it was worth continuing, I found myself thoroughly immersed in what I was writing. I re-read my first few pages and realized–just like that sunflower–I had stumbled back onto that note, my voice, quite by accident. Quite beyond intent. Whether it will resonate is another question altogether, but for the moment–I’m content to be astounded.

So here’s a word of encouragement, to gardeners and writers alike: Work hard, give it all you have to give, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty…

…but remember…

…seeds don’t always need your help in becoming flowers.

It’s what they were meant to do.

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2 Responses to Sunflowers & Prose

  1. Ben says:

    Great article Sarah. Your journey reminds me much of the Agave plant that bloomed a couple of years ago at the University of Michigan. 80 years of growth to have a short period of blooming.

    Sometimes, we view silence as a point of struggle or not finding something. At times, I often find that we run into ourselves on the silent journey. So many of the poignant moments in Christ’s life came in silent suffering that brought His greatness moments.

    Even as you feel you have lost your voice, you write an amazing article that defines your voice with such clarity. What a silent surprise. =)

    If silence produces such great writing, then please stay silent more so that I may read these more often. I say that tongue in cheek obviously but I can only encourage you to find some positive light in this season as it will be one of the tougher ones in your life.

    • semmie says:


      I remember the agave plant! What a great reminder…! I wish now that I had remembered it in the first place. đŸ˜‰

      I love what you say–that “we run into ourselves on the silent journey.” How very true. It amazes me, sometimes, how uncomfortable I’ve become with silence in our wired society. It is so easy to forget that silence is a good and very necessary part of every piece of music, and thus–every life. I need to journal on those words and, if you don’t mind, do some additional writing on it.

      I do appreciate your words and encouragement very much, my friend. It means the world to me.


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