I looked the quote up. Turns out it’s a proverb, not a quote from a poem as I had first thought. Somehow, I had expected to find the line came from a poem by Robert Frost or Henry David Thoreau. Instead, the phrase is the perfect metaphor for the writing life.
There’s an oak tree in my side yard the arborist tells me is 500 years old. I find the concept hard to wrap my head around. But who am I to argue with and arborist? If he is right, then this tree was a sapling when the Calusa Indians settled this area in 1500. A great oak from a little acorn.
Writing stories is similar. It’s the tiny seed, the first event, that gives birth to 100,000 words. Rarely does the idea for a book or story spring full-blown into the writer’s mind, or this writer’s mind at least. Often, the idea is triggered by a tidbit of conversation overheard in a restaurant, or a leading edge of a news story, or headline half read from a newspaper. Nothing concrete, nothing complete, merely a wisp of something that sparks the imagination. A plastic bag floating out of the window of the submerged wreck was the seed that gave rise to the scenario that grew into Death by Blue Water. The plastic bag became a hand, the hand was attached to a murder victim. The story was born.
As with any seed, the gardener’s job is to plant and nurture it. Leaves and branches of new ideas sprout from the main stalk filling out the story. The author, like the gardener, initially lets the story and the characters decide their own avenues of growth. Branches sprout and seem vigorous for a while, then die out, or a strong branch may grow from an unexpected limb and cross the main trunk. The author, plotter or pantser, follows the story and keeps an eye on these offshoots not yet trying to reign it in. In the end the author returns to the story picture and looking at the whole, prunes away excess words, dead branches, and unimportant (although sometimes much loved) storylines, to leave only the vibrant, living, story behind. From the small germ of an idea a solid and strong story tree has grown.
Writers, are you surprised by the route your ideas have taken?
Readers, are you surprised to learn the seeds that have sparked your favorite books?