Thursday, December 4, 2008

Shootin’ Blanks

I need more ammo! I’m running out of words. Frankly, I’m surprised. I tend to be a pretty vocabularious guy. I’m hoping to enlist your help.

In my 21 years at my day job as landscape architect for the city of Santa Barbara, I’ve been called on to write staff reports, memos and the occasional grant proposal. I do a pretty good job—even convinced the powers in Sacramento to send some significant didge our way a few times. It’s professional writing; no Pulitzer prizes in my future.

But now I’ve expanded my writing endeavors. It began about seven years ago, e-mailing cheeky gig alerts to adoring King Bee fans, hoping they’d come see us (next chance: SOhO, Friday, December 12). I launched this blog in May 2007, ranting about bad gardens, teaching design principles, occasionally extolling the charms of Santa Barbara. This attracted the attention of now defunct Coastal Woman magazine (we miss you, Barbara!), where my quarterly feature, Garden Coach, raised the bar on my writing skills. No more off the cuff bursts; people were actually reading this magazine. Additionally, I write a thousand words a month for Santa Barbara Homeowner Magazine, and then let my hair down at in a bi-weekly on-line column. That’s a lot of writing for a landscape guy.

Mostly, I write about gardens and here’s where the word shortage manifests. There are only a handful of ways of saying “garden” or “green” or “beautiful.” I get bored and you don’t want an article that reads like an assembly manual for a bookcase. That’s where you, my erudite, imaginative readers come in. Bear with this minor digression, as you might be wondering why a landscape architect is getting all bent out of shape about writing.

Like I said, I’ve been at my day job for over two decades and quite frankly, the thrill is ebbing. Lately, thoughts of retirement have been dancing in my head. I figure that with the pension I’ll receive I can retire to Botswana and be set for life. But it’s hard to find free wi-fi there, so I’ll be staying around and needing supplemental income.

Right now, I trade my writing for advertising. If you’re an Edhat regular and occasionally glance at the top of the screen, you see a banner ad—sometimes it’s for my consulting business, bgdc. I advertise to find new clients. It works. However, given the current state of the economy, it might be awhile until I pull the chord on my pewter parachute.

As should be obvious, I’m not really a writer—I don’t even play one on TV. I backed into writing and so far it hasn’t tried to bite me on the ass. Here’s the dilemma: I’ll have more time for the clients I’m generating if I can streamline the writing process. Yet as I sit down to tackle each assignment, I feel like I’m fumbling through a foggy cloud of June Gloom. I’m enjoying the writing—I just wish it came as easily as designing.

What I need is a reliable process; I need words to pour from my noggin, arrange themselves on the page with élan and brilliance, and then push the ‘send’ button on their own, whilst I set about making landscapes more beautiful, functional and sustainable.

To jump start my training, I attended a garden writer’s conference in September. I’ve spent a small fortune on writing books and bought lunches for generous freelance writers. It’s helping. Who knew there are actual techniques for writing? Like fitting the number of topics to the number of words in the assignment or writing “shitty first drafts” before you polish the rough edges. It’s amazing what a little strategerizing can do.

Now imagine my delight when I discovered, a website that generates veritable spider webs of word associations in a dynamic, colorful, animated format. I typed the word “green” in the text box. From the center of the screen, fourteen lines blossomed from the original word, bouncing like marionettes, each one displaying a different meaning for “green.” One arm connects to “not mature; unripe” while another defines a piece of land set aside for recreation. One leads to where golfers putt, another to the political party. Click on the synonym “park” and a new octopus word map in generated. You’ll find yourself going down a labyrinth of rabbit holes after a few clicks.

Here’s where you come in. Right now my goal is to expand my garden design vocabulary and I’d like your help. In the comment section at the end of this article is your opportunity to inundate me with garden design words—words about flowers, spaces to hang out, the sensations you feel when you’re in your garden, the sights and smells that take you out of your everyday life and trigger your pleasure centers.

Put on your thinking cap, whip out your Roget’s and unleash your inner Shakespeare.


Anonymous said...

I just figured out that I am a story teller and not a writer. I'm ok with that but my weakness is vocab. I can't help you but if you read these gal's and guys blogs who are at the top of their'll start talking like them. Here are a few words from my garden....
out right amazing
over the top
sticky......just kidding! Good luck with your new work. You are so talented.

Mother Nature's Garden said...

I use the word beautiful way to much. It is probably in every post.

VP said...

Beware the word georgeous too!

I know what you mean about the craft of writing. Until about a month ago, I just wrote what came out of my head. I've been attending a creative writing course and experienced my first bout of writer's block for one of the set homeworks. I don't think it's been the right course to do, how I envy you your garden writing course attendance.

But now I'm contending with names, beginnings, endings, what-if's, style, the element of surprise - aaaaargghhhh!

It's so nice to return to my blog and write just how I like it!

James Golden said...

I just discovered your blog via a cyberconnection I've already forgotten. Got sucked into your ten favorites and went through them all at high speed. I really like your 60 mph writing style. Very entertaining. You even get across color theory in a way that's fun and easy to understand. What do you mean you're not a writer?!?

Benjamin Vogt said...

Looky here, people get PAID to be writing coaches, and you just expect people to give you free ideas? I say nosireebob to this. I COULD be an amiable fellow blogger, but I'm also working on a 270 page garden memoir / environmental and religious harangue due in February so I can get a PhD. So, perhaps we can work out a trade? Or--and I like this better--you edit my book and I'll send you to this cool website I just found on some guy's blog about a thesauraus that uses visual imagery. Can you tell I'm punchy? I know you don't mind, but I have to vent somewhere, and since I enjoy your blog, hey. End of the semester, term papers coming in to grade, snow falling.... Writing IS hard, but if it wasn't, it wouldn't be worthwhile and so life changing! It's as essential as oxygen of magnesium, depending on if you're a plant or human (or both).

The Greensman said...

sometimes its not about the words but about the content. I love riding my Harley Davidson Road King through the back roads of Santa Barbara and checking out all the great gardens. We ride up from Simi Valley. Sometimes it's the use of plants that catchs my eye, or the block walls, or the giant eucalyptus trees that seem to hover from above.