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Writing Life: 3 Ways to Grow a Seedling Story

I recently had a new story idea fall into my lap. This doesn’t happen very often, and sometimes it feels like I’ve been given a tiny baby story. If I don’t care for it, maybe it won’t take root. So I’ve been clutching this tiny story idea, hoping that I don’t make a hash of the writing and spoil the idea. Here are a few ways I’ve found helpful to help along that process.

1. Think Often

The number one reason I lose the thread of a story is that I forget what I’ve come up with previously. In other words, I fall out of the world. To combat this, I like to spend spare time thinking, even daydreaming, about the story I’m writing. When I’m washing the dishes, I explore different story threads and possibilities. While I’m showering, I lay out dialogue beats. Commuting in the car is my favorite time to come up with a perfect line. Something about the repetition of driving just gives me the perfect opportunity to turn a sentence around in my head, polishing and perfecting it.

It can also be helpful to drag your real life into your story. Don’t think autobiography: I’m talking on a smaller level, about the things that happen to you every day. For example, my wife and I just moved, and our dishwasher flooded our first week in our new house. We’re talking water-soaking-through-the-floor-into-the-basement flooded. Not fun. After we cleaned it up, I sat down and sketched out the broad outline of what had happened, and now I’m grafting it into the beginning of this new story. Even the most boring life provides tons of interesting episodes that you can integrate into your story.

2. Talk about It

If I can’t be writing my story, my next-favorite thing to do is talk about it. Bless my wife for being so understanding — she’s heard enough about this latest one to make a stone get impatient. She’s even helped me act out difficult dialogue portions so that I can hear how it’s supposed to flow.

A point person who’s willing to think about your story with you will prove to be invaluable. There’s no better sounding board than a willing ear, and you’ll often find that your creativity flows better when there’s an instant reaction to possible ideas and storylines. Also, I’ve found that being forced to explain my storyline reveals holes and inconsistencies really quickly. Talking through this story with Alisha quickly showed me that my main character’s reaction to a certain event was way too muted, and I could tell because she put me in the shoes of my own main character, and I reacted naturally to the situation. Take that experience and apply it to your new story.

3. Write It

This last one is pretty predictable. Without constant writing, your story will die. But one of the really freeing things I’ve learned is that this writing doesn’t necessarily have to be the story itself. You don’t have to start at the beginning and write through to the end. Write that one scene that’s burning into your brain and you can’t forget. You can always put scenes together at the end. I find that if I force myself to focus on a beginning that’s not flowing for me, I lose all momentum in the story and forget how excited I was. If I start with the scenes that gave me the initial idea, I then have some material to help me when I try to sit down and write the beginning.

I’ve also come to love freewriting. Freewriting is the idea of writing snippets that are “in” your story’s world or use your story’s characters, even if they don’t play into the main story you’re trying to tell. I think of freewriting as mulch for a young sprouting story. Mulch isn’t a plant itself, but it’s composted pieces of plants that will help your plant to grow. In the same way, freewriting can help you to nail down a character’s voice, or figure out some snappy dialogue. All writing is useful writing, and it’s so important to be writing daily, even if it’s freewriting. Don’t let the feel and essence of the story slip through your fingers!

I’m excited about this new story, and hopefully you are excited about your own as well. With some hard work, some practice, and a little bit of luck, they can grow up big and successful. See you on the other side!