Of Saplings and Stories: What We can Learn

When I’m not writing stories, I work with trees.

Let’s be clear: I’m not the one cutting trees down or doctoring them up—no, no, you will not see me wielding a chainsaw or fertilizer. Instead, I run the marketing and communications department for a top-notch tree company in West Michigan, Treeworks, Inc. More specifically, I am the marketing and communications department.

Sound like I’m bragging? I’m not, you’ll see.

When I first started, all I had was a degree and the desire to make things happen. Well, they happened all right, but in a rather swim-or-sink fashion, as I’ll elaborate in a later post. Suffice to say that I learned a great deal in the first six months of juggling the day-to-day demands of clients with the long terms needs of marketing and brand management. There’s still a ton to learn!

But one of the many joys of what I do lies in the daily opportunity to make tree puns and get paid for it. I mean, it’s Advertising 101: use language that will catch people’s attention and make them smile. Needless to say, this keeps me thinking in terms of trees and the many facets of their leafy lives. If you’ve read any number of articles on The Inquisitive Inkpot, you’ve probably gathered one thing:

I love making connections between stories and life.

This time, I’m taking it a step further—going out on a limb, you might say. I want to point out a core parallel between stories and trees.

Stories, like many saplings, need a balanced diet of sunlight.

Like any baby, infant saplings are at their most vulnerable. This is why we keep them in greenhouses where they can avoid the scorching heat and light of the sun. Only once they have reached some level of maturity do we plant them in the wild, dangerous world.

A young story is equally vulnerable. I’ve written on the importance of inviting feedback from select people, but what I want to expound here is the need to protect underdeveloped ideas from the outside world until they are ready. Note that this is only until they are ready. Just as you don’t want to coddle a tree forever in the faux oasis of a greenhouse, you can’t keep your story to yourself indefinitely—assuming you believe it’s worth sharing.

But don’t all ideas need criticism early on in order to become better?

Yes! Yes, they do. But for any writer working with a complex character or plotline, you must give yourself some time to develop these elements on your own. While I don’t have statistics to back this up, I can at least speak from experience: sharing ideas prematurely can either stunt or mis-form a promising plant.

Raw ideas are like seeds. Raw ideas that have converged are like seeds that have taken root. Merged ideas that begin to spin a story are like a fresh green shoot showing its face above ground for the first time. And a developing story is like a young sapling whose little trunk is just beginning to harden.

The danger of exposing sapling stories to the elements too soon lies in the power of others’ opinions.

Like it or not, we care (to varying degrees) about what people think. If someone tells us early on that our idea is lame or colorless or unoriginal, this has the potential to sap our creative energy. (Yes, pun intended.) OR… if someone suggests something different during the nascent stage, this can actually destroy the originality of our idea. There is a fine line between incorporating external feedback and redefining our story’s DNA based on someone else’s idea. You might compare this to pruning a growing tree, as opposed to trying to replace its trunk. Feedback should hone and fertilize our story—not swap out its spine. If we don’t spend enough time with our characters before introducing them to other people, we may find someone else reinventing them before our very eyes.

What’s your take? Do you tend to share your ideas with others right away or wait until they’re more developed?

Have you ever regretted opening up about an idea too soon?

Have you ever regretted not opening up sooner?

Got kids? Grandkids? Nieces and nephews?

Or are you just plain curious to find out where all the missing socks go? Find out one ambitious sock’s journey by ordering your copy of The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock!

5 Comments on “Of Saplings and Stories: What We can Learn

  1. I’ll often bounce an idea off of someone before I start putting any effort in to see if it sounds worth developing. After that, it depends on what the project it. If it is a complected thing and I’m hitting walls, I’ll bring someone in to help problem solve, but if it’s more creative, I’ll often get it well established before sharing

    • Yes, that’s a great approach! Sometimes getting general affirmation from someone at the beginning can give you that confidence boost to go ahead with the project. Knowing there’s an audience who would be interested to see it develop really can empower you to push forward!
      I’m the same way with roadblocks– sometimes you just need an outside perspective to help you find your way around the obstacle. Good for you!

  2. I’m definitely very protective about my seed. I just need to make sure I don’t suffocate it and instead let it grow, bloom, and bear fruit.
    A woman of many talents you are.

    • Thank you for sharing and for your kind words! It is fascinating how different people cultivate their ideas. Part of it probably has to do with a person’s introversion versus extroversion… which means there’s bound to be some worthwhile psychology that could be discussed here!

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