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)


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