Matthew 13:3-9 says that Jesus, "told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Many of us have a tendency to take the seeds God has given us and eat them, or save them, or hide them, rather than investing them in good soil. Even if they do get planted, they may get thrown along the wayside or cast into the scorching sun.
Not only are these "seeds" relevant to our personal spiritual walks, but they're also relevant to our writing.
God has given each of us concepts, creativity, and dreams that function as seeds for our stories. Ever get a brilliant idea just before you sleep into the realm of sleep each night? That's a seed. Keep a notepad (or your phone) on your nightstand and write it down. Same goes for inspiration that strikes you at the oddest times. I can't tell you how many random "notes" I've made to myself on my phone while sitting in church or the line at the mall.
Sometimes we get lackadaisical about what God's telling us. I don't know about you, but if I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, more times than not, I'm going to go back to sleep and assume the idea will still be there in the morning. Thing is, sometimes it isn't.
The seeds God has given us for our books are precious and ought to be treated with care. We shouldn't toss them around so carelessly if we truly want them to take root and become fruitful.
So the question is, how do we plant these seeds?
Little anecdote from my own writing journey. I was trained to write by a bunch of brilliant postmodernists. I was taught that over planning and plotting could stifle creativity and keep a story from taking on new directions and depths that come through writing. I think there's certainly some wisdom to this approach. After all, you don't want your book to become formulaic, and you don't want to reject new ideas just because they come in the "editing" rather than the "plotting" stage. Some of the best ideas and poignant moments aren't discovered until the book is almost complete and you've really come to know your characters in a deep way.
However, using this approach as an overarching strategy presents a problem--a very big one--that I soon discovered as I "panstered" my way through four books. And the problem is this. Writing is frustrating, and too much responsibility falls on editing's shoulders.
You need a premise, a seed, a core idea to drive every scene and every character in your story. Now, this seed can be developed. It should take on roots and leaves and flower throughout the course of your writing. But don't make things harder on yourself by looking for the seeds only after you've finished your book. Doing so leads to so much unnecessary editing!
Think of the books you've read that have really stuck with you or touched you in an emotional way. Most likely, they presented a concept or demonstration of character growth that was both vibrant and relatable, and you saw a bit of yourself in the character's journey. That didn't happen by mistake. That happened because an author was willing to invest for thought into cultivating seeds before planting them.
Now, I'm not saying you have to plot out your whole novel. I still have enough "pantster" in me to tremble a little when I think of a task so daunting, and I know that personally, my writing would end up stifled if I put too many restrictions on it.
But I do want to challenge you today to take time mulling over and praying over the seeds--the core concepts of your story--and ask God where He wants to plant them. If you know the major questions and themes driving your story--where your characters are going to fail and succeed, what they're going to fear, their dreams, etc.--then you can craft each scene, symbol, and supporting character accordingly. Not only will this make editing easier, but your first draft will also be a lot less painful to write, knowing each scene is already infused with purpose and meaning.
I want to hear from you all! Are you usually a pantster or a plotter? How can both camps approach the process of planning their premise (albeit a little differently)?
Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.