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Stories and Trees

October 12, 2014

The arrival of fall got me thinking …Image courtesy of Billy Alexander @ stock.xchng

Since I love walking in the woods, I find it often feels as if my Muse is wandering in a forest full of ideas. Writing these stories down, especially as a discovery writer, feels very much like growing trees.

For example, despite their magnitude when they are finished, stories start with nothing more than a seed, a nut with a soft center but enclosed in a hard shell. In other words tough to crack— but put the seed in the soil, water it every day, and if it rains and the soil is damp and well aerated, over time the shell will crack and sprout.

This is the part where the daily words come in. I write almost every day, preferably in the morning, with a cup of coffee at my side. With time and persistence, the story inside me will reveal itself, and eventually a tiny seedling will surprise me as its green shoot pokes out of the fertile ground of my imagination.

Image courtesy of Billy Alexander @ stock.xchngThis stage of story growth, while exciting, is also one of the most fragile. I must be careful lest a careless stomp of a critical foot presses the tender seedling back into the ground. I must shelter it from storms, from hungry rodents, from drought. Also, tiny as the seedling is, I can’t even distinguish what it might become. I must write a little every day before discovering what kind of tree I’ve got. Is it an evergreen, destined to adorn a future living room’s Christmas? Is it a weeping willow, its roots seeking the succulent earth near a lake or a river? Or is it a maple, turning fiery orange and red every Halloween? The excitement of discovering what it might be keeps me writing. Who are these characters who populate my idea? What genre of story do they inhabit? Before the first leaf shows its shape, anything could happen.

Once the tree has revealed its species, I must remain diligent as leaf after leaf unfolds to nourish the emerging trunk and creeping roots, as the theme of the story sends shoots into the ground and branches into the sky. As with many things in life, one can’t see the growth from day to day, but over months and even years, that tender sapling grows into a sturdy young tree with broad branches gently swaying in the summer wind. I am incredibly proud of it, but at the same time there are some limbs in the wrong place, shoots springing up next to the trunk that don’t belong there, and even the occasional infestation of wood eating pests.Image courtesy of Billy Alexander @ stock.xchng

This is where the pruning shears come in. Knowing where to prune and what growth to promote is an art in itself, one that can be learned through practice and observing other properly groomed trees. It can be wrenching to lop off graceful boughs in the name of stronger tree growth, but it must be done. A good gardener knows that the light and the nutrition must reach the branches that will bear the most fruit. A good writer knows where to cut and where to graft to create a rewarding story.

Image courtesy of Billy Alexander @ stock.xchngFinally when the tree has grown to its full glory, its magnificent crown dappling the garden below in ripples of shade, I invite my friends over to take a look, to admire the symmetry of the branches, the health of the leaves, the depth of the roots. We can picnic under its benevolent shadow, smell its savory blossoms, and I marvel as I contemplate this massive miracle of wood and bark and leaves and seeds that is my own creation. Trees, because they grow so slowly and tenaciously, sometimes feel as if they live forever. Certainly they outlive us, and stories feel that way to me as well. Writers who came before me, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, have left behind mighty literary forests that still inspire and enchant us today, and that still cast their shadow over lesser saplings like me.

As I look over my orchard of half-finished books I sometimes wonder, will my trees ever bear fruit? Will I ever reap a harvest from happy readers consuming the results of my hard work? Or will my story trees remain forever ornamental, fun for me to look at, rustling at my window as I sleep at night, but never to be shared?

How about you? What would you compare your writing process to? What is your favorite kind of tree?

Leaf images courtesy of Billy Alexander @ stock.xchng

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25 Comments
  1. October 12, 2014 7:40 pm

    I love this metaphor. My writing process is generally a steep and percolate sort of thing, so cooking? I think of it like immersion. I generally immerse myself in an ocean of reading/writing a particular world or character set and then tons of stories come out and some get started but don’t percolate enough and so I let those ideas percolate in the ocean until I bump into the shoals they’ve formed into while I let them alone.

    I never put the word ocean on it though, more like abyss. If the story doesn’t emerge fully formed enough, I have to throw it back in the abyss until my conscious mind gets out of the way again.

    • October 12, 2014 7:59 pm

      I really like your analogy too.

      • October 13, 2014 6:03 pm

        It’s nice to see you around here, Liana! And I’m glad I’m not the only one awash in half-formed stories. 🙂
        If I could get even one of them out the door I’d feel so productive!

        • October 14, 2014 11:41 am

          100s of unfinished seems to be my price for hundreds of finished. I can live with that. :grins:

  2. October 12, 2014 7:58 pm

    i loved your tree analogy. What a beautiful post in words. The picture of your process you painted was inspiring.

    • October 13, 2014 6:04 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Juneta. 🙂

  3. October 12, 2014 10:41 pm

    So lovely, Kirsten, and so apt to find the similarities between trees and writing. I completely relate to your analogy, and your detail paints a picture of the unfolding process. I think about the tree roots as well. That all our writing spreads a wider, deeper foundation to support our growth in the future.

    I can’t speak to the fruits your half-finished books will bear, but I reap bountiful harvest from each of your posts. I cherish all you offer.

    • October 13, 2014 6:09 pm

      Yes, roots … 🙂 So much important stuff lies beneath the surface doesn’t it?
      A blog is such a fun place to gather the treasures I find along the way to finishing these books of mine! I’m glad you’ve joined me on this journey. 🙂

  4. October 13, 2014 7:43 am

    Great analogy. Safe to say my trees need extra watering and time to grow, because they never seem big enough.

    • October 13, 2014 6:55 pm

      Your trees are the perfect size, Alex. And you have such a nice straight row of them as you publish book after book after book!

  5. October 13, 2014 8:40 am

    Your tree metaphor is lovely and totally works for writing stories. I also like the forest of ideas. I definitely feel like my stories take a very long time to grow into the giants I want them to become. Good job writing every day!

    • October 13, 2014 6:57 pm

      Notice that I added ‘almost’ to my comment about writing every day. 🙂 My Muse is a slave driver, but life often intervenes despite my good intentions!

  6. melissamaygrove permalink
    October 13, 2014 9:52 am

    Mine are more like Legos. They get in my path and prick my feet… hide on the couch cushions and poke me in the butt until I pay attention to them and add pieces until they turn into an intricate creation. 🙂

    • October 13, 2014 6:59 pm

      I love this, Melissa! Especially because Legos just beg to be played with, just like story ideas. 🙂

  7. dksalerni permalink
    October 13, 2014 5:47 pm

    Your metaphor is exquisite.

    Me — the last time I used a metaphor to describe my writing process, I think is called it a “demented road trip with a bunch of maddening strangers.” I wrote up a whole dialogue about me in the car with my characters, them tricking me out of the driver’s seat and taking the wheel, then crashing us into a ditch.

    Not nearly as pretty.

    • October 13, 2014 7:05 pm

      LOL, Dianne!
      My Muse staged an intervention once, with all the characters from my various stories insisting that I need to learn to tell a story properly. I blogged about it, naturally, but it was a very long post … 🙂

  8. October 13, 2014 9:04 pm

    Great analogy . . . you gave me some food for thought tonight 🙂

  9. October 14, 2014 12:14 pm

    Oak. Oak is definitely my favorite kind of tree–childhood memories and all. If my brain weren’t so tired, I would totally come up with an epic metaphor about writing to wow you. Alas. Cheese… There we go. Good writing is like amazing cheese. The best cheese are typically aged and take a great deal of churning. Eh? Not bad for brain dead. =)

    • October 17, 2014 12:13 am

      Not bad at all, Crystal, especially since I love cheese!

  10. Loni Townsend permalink
    October 15, 2014 10:08 am

    Great comparison! My favorite tree is the Japanese Cherry Blossom. My husband got me one last year. 🙂

    I haven’t really compared my writing to much. Maybe a squirrel deciding whether or not to cross the road.

    • October 17, 2014 12:15 am

      Those squirrels are nuts! 😉 It always seems they decide the perfect time to sprint over the road is exactly when I’m cruising in their direction. It’s so weird!

  11. October 15, 2014 6:30 pm

    Lovely blog, as always. As for my favorite tree…it’s the Autumn Purple Ash. As the nights grow colder, the gorgeous green leaves take on a purple hue but, closer to the trunk, the leaves turn gold. It’s as if the tree glows from the inside.

    If only my first draft glowed from the inside instead of lurking on my desk gathering dust:)

    • October 17, 2014 12:18 am

      Autumn Purple Ash sounds like a lovely tree!
      Watch out for those Emerald Ash Borers though. They are decimating the ash trees here in Illinois. 😦

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