What a Pumpkin Vine Taught Me About Focus

My pumpkins are doing very well this year. I have several vines, and each one is growing a pumpkin. Only one pumpkin. Which is interesting, because every morning, they make a whole lot of flowers.

They have two kinds of flowers: female flowers that might make a pumpkin, which is the goal of a pumpkin plant, and male flowers that help them get started.

Most of the flowers that open in the morning are males. These flowers quickly do what they need to do and then fade away, like random items on a To-Do List. The female flowers, once fertilized, hang around and continue to develop. These are long-term projects. The plants works on them for about three months, or as long as it takes to get the pumpkins ripe and ready for pie.

What caught my eye today is that even while the female flower is hard at work making her pumpkin, the plant continues to produce a few new female flowers. They often get fertilized and begin to develop. BUT they don’t get very far. Here is what happens:

Growing pumpkin and discarded bud

The second pumpkin turns yellow and falls off the plant, while the original pumpkin continues to grow (in dark green at the back). The vine knows that it only has enough energy to grow one pumpkin. If it tries to grow a second one, the first one might be stunted, or it might not ripen before frost.

What does this teach me? That when I am hard at work on a project, and I want to finish it, I can’t get distracted with something new. When I’m writing a story, I need to finish it before I start writing a new one. Even if the new one is fresh and enticing.

Holly Black, author of many books for Teen and Middle Grade readers, says something similar in her advice to writers. She says,

It’s exciting to be at the crossroads where lots of ideas meet, but to finish a project, it needs to be your focus, at least for a little while. So you have to commit to an idea, even if you begin second-guessing yourself moments after that decision.

My pumpkins agree. I better get back to work.

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