blog, writing process

How much is too much?

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Cerinthe major purpurascens

How many ideas do you have at any given time?

I read somewhere that most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with. I imagine their heads crammed with story seeds and baby notions, all crying out to be fed and developed and watered. They would look something like the path by my back door used to be, overflowing with impulse buys and supermarket bargains, waiting for a permanent home. Then I’d be going away and all those little pots, too small to sustain themselves, would be crammed into a shady corner or plunged into the ground, in a frantic last minute rush to save them.

That’s how I ended up with a towering bay tree, all of twelve feet or more, rather too close to a bamboo. I had no idea it would get that big… and need so much pruning. But I digress.

I don’t have so many ideas.

If I read writing prompts, just one or two might interest me. But when an idea does take root in my mind, it grows. It demands attention. It gets bigger and stronger and it has to be followed to the bitter end. That is how I found my novel, that rose from a one hundred word seed of an idea. Rather like Jack’s beanstalk.

My forest of little pots sometimes suffered because I couldn’t tend them all. If I have more ideas than I can handle, I write them down. That’s like putting pots in a holding bed. [God bless the notes feature on my phone.] But in general, I look around and let things settle until one strong shoot appears. I nurture it, until it can look after itself for a while. Only then will I look around for another smaller thing to keep me going.

It’s more important to do a few things well, than to do a lot of things badly.

It is also vital to finish properly. Half done is not pretty. Some things work better than others. You try things out and you learn from success and failure.

Writing is a kind of gardening. Different timescales, and different spaces, and different care schedules are needed for all the projects. But put together, they make a wonderful variety.

Whether you want to collect all of one species, or one of all species, a garden grows in stages. Over time, a writer collects a body of work that reflects them, just as every garden reflects its gardener.

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