One of my favorite authors, Hank Phillippi-Ryan, shared a picture on Facebook recently. It was a tiny pot in which she’d planted a few seeds. Days later, you could see the thin, green shoots. “I have a story idea,” she wrote. “Will it grow?”
She’s used this metaphor before. Last year, it was an amaryllis plant. Every day, she posted a new picture so fans could track the progress from bare dirt to lovely flower.
The comparison to a story idea is inevitable. Well-worn, but inevitable.
That’s what we writers start with. A seed. We put it in the dirt, water it, shine a little sunlight, and hope it grows. Sometimes it does. Sometimes we get the pretty amaryllis blossom.
Other times, the seed starts to grow. We get green things and we get excited, so we pour on some fertilizer, maybe some more water, a little more light. And we get too excited. We drown the poor thing. It withers and dies.
Still other times, we seem to get it right, but the shoot gets to a stubborn phase and just. wont. grow. No matter what we do. Eventually, it withers up and dies.
And finally, there are the times that the seed won’t sprout at all. No matter what, regardless of all the tender, loving care we slather it with. The pot remains a barren patch of dirt, nary a green shoot to be found.
All of these could be story ideas. We’ve all had ’em, at every stage. The ideas that work from day one. The ones that give us grief at every step of the way. The ones that die before we even get started. I told a co-worker who wants to write a novel (but he doesn’t have an idea) that ideas are cheap. I have more ideas than I could write in a lifetime. It’s what you do with them that counts. I don’t think he believed me.
Ideas are seeds. We can buy an entire packet of them at our local gardening spot. Inside that packet are a LOT of seeds. Know why? Some are gonna die mid-sprout. Some are never going to sprout. And some are gonna give us fruit – or vegetables, or beautiful flowers. But it’s gonna take a lot of work. A lot of care, a lot of fretting that maybe we’re giving it too much water, or not enough. Do we have the balance of fertilizer right? Is it getting enough sun?
So with our stories. Some write themselves. Some need an extra helping of work (from an editor, or trusted friend). We appear to kill them – but someone helps us find the right balance and they spring to life. Some start off hot and then poof! die. And some never go anywhere.
But finally, there is that moment. When the dirt is right, the shoot is strong, and the flower appears. Tightly wound. Will it open? Will it be as beautiful as we imagine?
And it opens. And it is beautiful – it exceeds our expectations.
And that, my friends, is as magical as any blossom in my garden.