The photo is an image I see every week as I take my lunchtime walk. The little tree stands alone in a field. For about half the year, it is clothed in green leaves.
Then the leaves turn brown - not orange or red or yellow, just plain old brown. The shriveled leaves hang on the tree for a few weeks, until the wind knocks them off. Naked branches give the appearance of death from November to April. Sometimes snow softens the contours. More often, this is what I see.
Yet inside the tree is life waiting to happen. Buds will form, then leaves unfurl, and the tree will look vibrant again.
Writing a short story or novel often feels like the same process. No, it does not begin with bare branches. My writing begins in a flash of lush green promise, like the little tree. A scene or character will form in my mind, as complete as late summer days.
As I begin to commit the story to paper, the images of my imagination become desiccated. The words I thought perfectly captured my ideas fade and blow away.
The season of doubt begins, a lingering cold that saps the life from language that once worked so well. I struggle just to get the story down, from beginning to end. Then a blizzard of editing and rewriting, draft after draft after draft. Sleet scours away redundancy. Freezing days and bitter nights kill the passive voice. Whatever life the story once possessed has retreated deep into untapped veins, hidden.
I set aside my work in disgust, convinced that I have deluded myself that I am in possession of any talent. That is when a bud unfurls slowly. Then another. I return to my desk and re-read. It's not so bad. Spring brings the fragile promise of life.
As I gain the approval of my beta readers, the summer sun glows bright. Leaves open with vigor. I make some tweaks here and there. The story flows. The characters live. The mystery intrigues. My confidence peaks. I have accomplished something wonderful.
I send the story into the big wide world, hoping for a positive response. A sale. As I wait, I begin anew. An image, a character, beckon. In a haze of optimism I begin, completely forgetting the seasons to come.
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