Several months ago, my dad surprised me with a wonderful gift. “I bought you a miniature orchid for your desk,” he said.
It joined a growing (pun intended) collection of plants on my desk, though I’m not sure those other plants are sufficiently challenging for me to claim a green thumb yet. My jade plant, snake plant, money tree, aloe, and succulent are all low maintenance.
I’d never taken care of an orchid before, and when I read about it online, it sounded almost as difficult as a bonsai I’d had many years ago that had not lived very long.
But the orchid’s delicate purple flowers were beautiful. After they had all fallen off, I was determined to try to keep the orchid alive. Hopefully, I could encourage it to bloom again.
I watered it with ice cubes according to the instructions. I bought a plant fertilizer. And I even tried my hand at pruning the stems.
Then something horrible happened. The stems turned brown and shriveled up.
Had I done something wrong? Was the plant dead?
The leaves were still a lush green, but I worried I had killed the plant or perhaps needed to cut the stems off completely.
I raced to the Internet again and found an article with a surprising answer: “Your orchid isn’t dead — it’s resting!”
The article explained,
Throughout an orchid’s dormant time, blooms drop from the stem, and the stem may shrivel and turn gray or brown. The orchid’s leaves gradually lose their bright green gloss and upright stance, turning dull and flattening out around the orchid’s base. It is at this point that many new Phalaenopsis orchid owners think their plant has died and regretfully throw it away.
Had they only hung in there, that seemingly lifeless orchid would have sent up a new spike in a few months and bloomed again in another spectacular display — and it would have continued to do so again and again for years to come!
I sighed with relief and hoped my orchid would send up a new spike soon.
As a writer, I thought of how this story of the orchid could apply to creativity.
First, it reminded me of my own creative projects.
Sometimes a story or an article or a video idea isn’t working, and I need to set it aside for a time. It can feel like that project has died, but in reality my brain just needs to take a rest from it. My subconscious continues to puzzle over it. Several weeks or months or a year later, I suddenly have more ideas for the project and can work on it again with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
I am reminded of this quote from the author Hilary Mantel:
If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music…whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.
That last sentence is key: be patient.
Second, the story of the orchid can apply to many other situations creatives find themselves in, not only with creative projects, but also marketing activities.
Maybe your email list or social media isn’t growing or you’re submitting your work to agents or publications and receiving rejection after rejection.
Be patient. (I am writing this as a reminder to myself too!)
Thomas Edison once said,
Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
You might need to pause for a time and figure out different strategies. But don’t give up completely. Your creative project might not be dead but just resting.
And, finally, the story of the orchid can also apply to our creative processes.
This week we celebrated Thanksgiving here in the United States. I had several days off from my work with clients at a marketing agency to relax and enjoy time with my family.
There is a huge emphasis in America on hustle culture and maximizing productivity levels (this often leads to burn out). So I was thankful to my little orchid for the reminder that rest is also important.
I had planned to spend many hours on my own creative projects, but I decided that it was better to find a balance. I did work on my creative projects but at a much more reasonable pace than I had originally planned.
Additionally, with the pressures of social media, we can feel that we have to constantly publish new content online. But sometimes we might need a month or two to rest from social media or our blogs or email newsletters so we have more time to devote to bigger projects that require deeper focus and more intense creative energy.
The orchid needs to rest so it can create stunning flowers again, and creatives need to rest too so we can create our own masterpieces.
I’d love to hear from you how this story of the orchid resonates in your own creative life. Maybe it relates to one of your creative projects (a book or a short story)? Or some other goal you are working towards?
And if any of you grow orchids, I’d also love to hear if you have any tips to share to make sure mine blooms again.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who celebrated this Thursday! There are 36 days left in the year — still lots of time to work towards our most important goals and to rest and plan for an amazing 2024.
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Thank you! Wishing you much success with your writing projects! God bless.