Planting the Right Seed



By Leah Henderson, faculty, Writing for Children & Young Adults



I’m sure I’m not the only one who sometimes feels pressure from my own inner critic or others, to tell a certain story—a story that is funnier, more serious, more literary, more creative . . . I could go on and on. Something more commercial or just plain different than what I’ve written or am trying to write. We sit with ideas for days, months, and years wondering if they are the ones we should explore, shape, and share, hoping they are worth the time it will take to make them into something.


But how do we ever know if we are picking the right one?


Marlon James. Credit: Mark Seliger

Honestly, I’m not sure we ever truly do. That is, until we begin (and even then, I’m still not so sure). I was listening to an interview with author Marlon James where he spoke about how he often “pick[s] the wrong seed.” Where it has sometimes taken him between 60 and 500 pages to figure out that a storyline or character needed to be left in a bin of ideas. That the right “seed” hadn’t been planted. While the interviewer seemed shocked to hear this, I wasn’t surprised at all. I’ve been there. At times, it has taken writing a whole novel to know it isn’t right, that it’s not the story I’m meant to tell or the journey my characters are meant to travel.


This isn’t to say that I can’t get there, or that the project should be abandoned. It just means it’s going to take a lot more work. Even then, it doesn’t ensure that others will agree it’s a worthwhile story to pursue. So I’ve had to find ways to quiet my own doubts and uncertainties and believe in the story, characters, or moments that have captured my attention and heart. To believe that they are worth figuring out.


So now I try and pick projects that mirror seeds I hold dear. Whether it is the things that make me curious; the experiences I grew up loving, or wanting to see, hear, and read; or a moment I just wish to uncover or understand. These seeds speak to family, friendship, possibilities, discovery, and so many other things. But for me, these are the ideas worth planting.


Part of the wonder of writing is the wonder itself: the journey of exploration to find the story that is inside us, built on our hopes, wishes, and experiences. Those are the stories I’m okay with writing extra pages to figure out. While I hope it won’t take me too long to find my way into any stories, these are the projects that are worth the challenge. They are the ideas I will stand by, that speak to me, whether they are the stories my inner critic or others think I should write or not. These will be the stories that I am proud of, the stories that have a little piece of me. These are the stories I’ll hold dear.


What are the stories and ideas that are worth writing extra pages for you?


 

Leah Henderson is an award-winning author of books for young readers, including the middle grade novels The Magic in Changing Your Stars and One Shadow on the Wall. Her picture books include Daddy Speaks Love, A Day for Rememberin’, and Together We March. Leah holds an MFA in Writing and teaches in Spalding’s low-residency writing program.