Monthly Archives: February 2011

Where do ideas really come from – part 2?

It has been a full growing season since I compared ideas to seeds planted in the soil of our minds and compared the development of an idea to a seedling that needed care and tending.

The original post is not surprisingly, named: Where do ideas really come from?  You may wish to refresh you memory by reading it here.

That was a fairly comprehensive discussion on my perspective on the age-old question writers are asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”  There were some great comments worthy of review as well.

So, what else is there to say in the matter?

As gardeners know, not every seed planted, however rich and prepared the soil, germinates and grows into a seedling and eventually a full-sized plant capable of bearing fruit.  Every seed packet you buy from the hardware store or nursery has instructions on the back about how many seeds to plant together, how deep, how far apart, and how long the seeds typically need to germinate.

Even then, some seeds just don’t grow.  Why?

Consider the incredible, but true, story of the Chinese bamboo tree:

“The process goes like this: You take a little seed, plant it, water it, and fertilize it for a whole year, and nothing happens.

The second year you water it and fertilize it, and nothing happens.

The third year you water it and fertilize it, and nothing happens. How discouraging this becomes!

The fourth year you repeat with the same frustrating results.

The fifth year you continue to water and fertilize the seed and then–take note.  Sometime during the fifth year, the Chinese bamboo tree sprouts and grows NINETY FEET IN SIX WEEKS!

Life is much akin to the growing process of the Chinese bamboo tree. It is often discouraging. We seemingly do things right, and nothing happens. But for those who do things right and are not discouraged and are persistent things will happen. Finally we begin to receive the rewards.”

What does this mean for writers and other creative types?

It means that often the best ideas take significant time to germinate in our minds, to develop those deep roots into our subconscious to strengthen and stabilize the idea so that when it does sprout, it can be dramatic how quickly the idea matures and is ready for harvesting into a story, painting, poem, sculpture, music composition, or whatever you are pursuing.

Some ideas take time to develop and mature and while it may seem that nothing is happening, you must continue to nurture and fertilize and fill your creative mind with nutrients so that the long period of germination for those great ideas have a chance.

If you give up and let the idea die, you will never know how much foundation had been already laid in your mind.

Some ideas will sprout and grow quickly, take advantage of those opportunities, but like most gardeners will tell you, your garden should have variety for the most satisfying yields.  If you focus on one big idea, your patience may be tested.  Why not invest your time and energy in both short-term, quick win ideas AND the long-term ideas than can bring great rewards down the proverbial road.

I’m doing this very thing with my own writing.  As some of you may recall, I started world-building for my epic fantasy trilogy back in August of 2009.

Giant Bamboo in Ecuador with a person next to ...

Image via Wikipedia

Nearly two years later I am still planting and cultivating new ideas to supplement the harvest of the big idea that got me started.  Since I plan to write at least three novels in this series, I need sustainable ideas that will yield continuous results.  That is a different idea gardening strategy than planting small quick idea seeds to write short stories or poems.

In addition, I also have my own bamboo idea that is in its 10th year of germination (okay so this one stretches the bamboo metaphor too far, but bear with me).  This is another epic fantasy world that I began designing in 2001.  It was way too ambitious for me as a younger writer, so I am letting this big idea develop very slowly.

I hope the roots are going deep so that when I’m ready to write it, it will grow into a complete series as fast as the bamboo tree, relatively speaking.

Some ideas take time and the time waiting for them to mature can often yield amazing results.  Who knows, you may soon have a whole forest of ideas.

Have any of you had bamboo tree-like experiences with ideas of any kind?

In everything you do in your family, keep in mind the miracle of the Chinese bamboo tree. After the seed for this amazing tree is planted, you see nothing, absolutely nothing, for four years except for a tiny shoot coming out of a bulb. During those four years, all the growth is underground in a massive, fibrous root structure that spreads deep and wide in the earth. But then in the the fifth year the Chinese bamboo tree grows up to eighty feet!“Many things in family life are like the Chinese bamboo tree. You work and you invest time and effort, and you do everything you can possibly do to nurture growth, and sometimes you don’t see anything for weeks, months, or even years. But if you’re patient and keep working and nurturing, that “fifth year” will come, and you will be astonished at the growth and change you see taking place. 

“Patience is faith in action. Patience is emotional diligence. It’s the willingness to suffer inside so that others can grow. It reveals love. It gives birth to understanding.”

From The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen R. Covey (pp. 22-23)


Resist the e-Revolution?

I just read this week about the bankruptcy of the nation’s second largest retail book chain, Borders.  I have also read recently that the popularity of e-books is growing at a significant rate and that many are forecasting the demise of the traditional bookstore.

Is this true?  Are books made of cardboard and paper with full color jackets going the way of the dodo bird?  What does this mean for writers?

To be honest, I don’t know the answers to these questions.

What I do know is that options for readers to obtain the books they want are increasing with the e-book format.  Imagine being at the beach and you just finished reading a great novel.  Now what?  Well, if you were prepared you would put the novel back in your bag and withdraw another book and start reading.  If you were not prepared you could either do something else or pack up and drive to the nearest bookstore in your swimsuit and flip-flops and buy something new to read.

Or, if you have an e-reader, you simply open up your memory file and select another book and off you go.  If you don’t have a book you want to read in your memory, you can search online and download a new book in a couple of minutes (assuming you have 3G or Wi-Fi connections available).

Either way, you have options, choices.

Have you ever been to a bookstore and they were sold out of a book you wanted to read or didn’t carry it in stock?  What did you do?  Buy something else, shop at a different store, or actually go to the library to borrow the book (good luck finding new releases)?

This happened to me last month.  We took the kids to the local Barnes and Noble to buy them each a book and they didn’t have the book I wanted, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.  So, I ordered it at the store and had to wait four days for it to ship to my house.  It was inconvenient, but I was willing to wait.

Of course, if I had owned an iPad or Nook or Kindle, I would have been able to purchase and download the book from an unlimited inventory in minutes.  No shortages, no out of stock, no sold out, no driving, no lines, no waiting.

Alas, I still prefer the tactile feel of a traditional book in my hands and paper pages to turn.  I like the heft of a big door-stopper epic fantasy.  At over 1000 pages, The Way of Kings is a big book.  Also, fantasy books tend to have paintings by famous artists as covers and additional inside cover art, maps, and diagrams that don’t yet translate well, in my opinion, to pages depicted in black and white e-ink.  The iPad is full color and is changing the landscape, but many of us don’t have $500 to plunk down for a reading device, when you can order many best sellers and new releases online for less than 20 bucks in traditional format.

So, that’s me.  I read real books.  I was a late adopter of cell phones, blogs, and more recently Facebook, so I will probably wait to get an e-reader as well.

As for the impact on authors and should I pursue publication via the old school big publishers or self-publish electronically and keep more of the profits, I don’t know.  I need to write a complete book first.  I’ll address that issue in a future post when I’m closer to the decision point of how to best market my work.

So, anyone out there know of someone who has successfully self-published e-book fiction and made a real go of it?  Is there still sufficient reason to go traditional with agent, editor, publisher and get a professionally produced book for  a much smaller slice of the profits?

You tell me.

Also, today’s post includes a poll about what format you like to read…please tell us your current and/or future preference.  You already know mine.

–Mark


Scott's Grimoire

MY SPOT OF INK: my ramblings on the ups and downs of writing a fantasy novel (or anything else that grabs my interest - books, food, movies, life)

The Undiscovered Author

A Day in the Life of aspiring Fantasy Author Stephen A. Watkins

Geoff's Ruminations

The thoughts and passions of a hopeful future author.