get some dirt under your nails

Most of my creative action is focused on writing. Well, writing & code – but to me, they are often two sides of the same coin. Like WordPress says, code is poetry. And I’m often asked how I got started with this whole blogging/writing/coding career.

It’s quite simple, I just did it.

On Saturday, I was listening to my local NPR station, as I am want to do, and caught a piece of the weekly organic gardening program. A caller said to the host something to the effect of, “I just have no idea how you know all the things you know.” And the host explained that he was self-taught and also did a stint as the editor of an organic gardening magazine.

He said the best way to learn about organic gardening is to “to get some dirt under your nails.”

If you ask me, this is the best way to learn just about anything.

For me, it meant setting up a few blogs, writing on a daily basis, watching others write & blog & code, and taking it all in. When I’d learned enough to be competent (and no more), I took a big leap – dove head first into the deep end of the pool. Each time I became competent at a skill or technique, I moved on to the next thing – all the while honing & perfecting the skills that came before.

Whatever your goal, get some dirt under your nails.

So often, I see people buy seed packets, gather the garden equipment, prep the hose, and learn what needs sun & what needs shade but never start to dig. You have to turn the dirt, plant the seeds, water the garden, dig up the weeds – and start all over again. Each season, you learn more & more. Your garden becomes thicker, more productive, more beautiful.

You cannot confuse preparation for action.

You cannot create something without getting dirt under your nails.

Want to learn how to paint? Paint. Want to make jewelry? Make jewelry. Want to write? Write. Want to climb a mountain? Climb.

When was the last time your played in the dirt?

{white ceramic planter & succulent garden kit by monkeysalwayslook}

29 thoughts on “get some dirt under your nails

      1. haha, in this respect, i’ll take that as a compliment! thank you! :) it’s fun to play in different sandboxes, although my problem is i never wash my hands so i have too many projects going at once… or i never become a master of any one thing… but it keeps me happy, so i guess that’s all that matters, right?

        my motto is, try anything twice. hell, three times, four… if you really want to do something, practice really does make all the difference.


  1. I’ve been a lurker, but this hit home. It is how DH and I live. Someone once asked us do we know what we are doing when we start a project. Usually we don’t, but we sure know a lot more when we are finished.

    1. hey, angie! thanks for un-lurking!

      “Usually we don’t, but we sure know a lot more when we are finished.” YES.

      I’m not ashamed to say that I even deal with clients this way. I tell them to dream big with their websites. I don’t always know how to execute their ideas at the start of the project – but a little confidence & a lot of dirt goes a long way. By the end, they’re pleased as punch & I’ve added a new skill set to my repertoire!

  2. I’m guilty of hanging around in the research stage of things a little too long, sometimes. But I’m honestly getting better at seizing the moment, creating when the idea comes to me rather than putting it away until I have time to think about it more.

  3. The last time I dug in the dirt, I transferred a little tiny ivy plant into a diced tomato can. I didn’t want to wait until I had the “proper” terracotta pot, I just wanted to let it grow. So that’s what I did. It worked.

    I really feel like I don’t have the time to take up gardening as yet another hobby/calling, but I am trying to convince my mom, a horticulturalist, to start a blog all about plants, care of plants, starting to care for plants, indoor plants, indoor gardening, how to’s and question and answers. She just needs to dive in, too.

  4. The last time I played in the dirt was when I started making jewelry last October. Just bought a bunch of supplies and had a go at it. I’m pretty sure if I’d insisted on taking classes first to learn “proper” techniques, I’d never have actually started. I still plan on taking some classes to improve my skills, but I’m glad I just jumped right in, because I know if I’d waited and overthought it, I’d have lost momentum.

    My next project will probably involve literally playing in the dirt – my husband and I want to start growing our own veggies! :-)

  5. Tara, I could not agree more! I waited around for months after I graduated from college and couldn’t find work before I could get up the nerve to start my own business. I sketched and planned and drew and dabbled – and finally one day – I said, WHAT AM I WAITING FOR? Nothing will happen until I put myself out there. It was such a small thing, I just put an ad on Craigslist for graphics services, but it was the moment that I started “playing in the dirt.” I haven’t looked back since, even though from time to time I have to push myself to keep at it!

  6. I have a habit of compiling lots of piles of dirt then going back and playing in each pile. The most recent dirt under my nails was that I took a sewing class. I had been wanting to sew for about 6 months, but had no knowledge whatsoever. I had purchased patterns I liked, materials, notions, you name it. I finally took the leap and took a class so I could keep learning. The next thing for me will be mending my husband’s clothing and making little beds for my dogs!

    Once I’m well into the sewing pile of dirt, I have a dirt pile for block printing and a dirt pile for screen printing as well. Hmmm….sounds like it might make a good blog topic …..

  7. Tara,
    This is/was me. Way too much dreaming/pondering/planning. Finally starting to play in the dirt of the blogging world with regularity and focus. I think creatives probably can’t have enough “just do it” posts to keep us moving!

    My dad is a writer and I love the sign he has in his office,

    “Dreamers dream. Writers write.”

  8. You are absolutely right Tara and the beauty of it is, that as long as you keep doing whatever you are doing, you never stop changing and growing. I know first hand after being a potter for 27 years and now a jewelry maker for 8. When I decided to make the change from clay to metal, it was very scarey because I knew clay and I was good at it and I connected with it almost on a cellular level. I thought, I would never have the same energy for metal but the longer I work with it the more exciting it becomes and the more you know; the more options you have for expressing your ideas. That is key.

  9. I’m having issues with this right now, trying to start everything up. I think I’m getting a little dirtier, so to speak, but I’m still mired in the planning stage. I have made great strides for myself the past couple weeks, though, setting major deadlines that will force me to dig!

  10. (Tara your posts on both blogs lately have been amazing – you are on fire. Or maybe you just have dirty fingernails.)

    Yeah, so often we do research, research, research and get frozen in information. Especially with the internet. I have to remind myself to shut off the computer and just do the thing I want to learn to do. I know I’ll probably suck at first but nobody has to know but me.

  11. I’m not really sure how I found your blog, but I’m really glad I did. I love the information you share at each post and your prespective on daily life. Getting “in the dirt” is something I have done all my life, no one, and I do mean no one is going to tell me I can’t do something or figure it out. Get that from my Dad I guess, he could do ANYTHING! (Made it very hard to find a good man!)
    On another note I think I love your blog so much because it reminds me of home. I grew up is South Jersey, went to school at the Pennslyvannia Academy of Fine Arts for a while and worked at the Spectrum. I love to hear you mention the places around you. I’m pretty sure the gardening program you were listening to was “You Bet Your Garden!” I just miss it all. So thanks for bringing a little piece of home into my email box each day!

  12. Tara, I am going to stick that quote up on the wall so when I try and convince myself that I am working when I’m actually procrastinating, the guilt will be too much!

  13. I love what Amber said. You are on fire, and are a wonderful inspiration as well as resource of valuable information. I am at the digging in stage after too much preparation, and so happy to be getting dirty!!! I also echo Amber with “nobody has to know but me”. I have spent a lot of time berating myself for false starts and mistakes, when I am the only one that knows. I have found that the only way to figure some things out is to do them and then redo them. Sometimes several times before they work. Here’s to dirty fingernails!

  14. Words to live by! I have been feeling frustrated w/trying to launch my craft biz but keep plugging along bc I have a feeling (after reading LOTS of advice!) this is a process. Process takes work! Reap what you sow.

  15. YES! Getting my hands dirty as I type! Wasn’t sure I was “qualified” to expand my business into my latest venture (self-doubt anyone?!) but dove in head-first and it is going well! It forces me into “professional development” that I have wanted to do for a long time…

  16. “You cannot confuse preparation for action.
    You cannot create something without getting dirt under your nails.”

    This is so truE! I am going to hang that at my desk and in my studio to remind me to MOVE!

  17. Agh last week I was very dirty under the nails. A fe months ago we were given a patch of someone’s allotment – I had no idea what to do – what to plant – how to plant. I was worried everything would die if I did not do it properly, until my partner said, ‘let’s just get it all in the ground – plant the seedlings and they will take care of themselves with a little nurture from us’. He was so right, now we have vegies cropping beyond belief! Every week with my jewellery I have to get dirty too, it is so easy to plan to make it all perfect but as you say that is not enough. Just plant the seeds and the rest will follow.

  18. Thanks for the great post! I very timely reminder as I work hard to start a photography business. A good reminder that hard work and diligence eventually produces a harvest.

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