Growing a Writer's Tree

Wise words from today's Shelf Awareness:

"There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately... no one knows what they are."

--W. Somerset Maugham

Encouraging words? Hardly. But when a good friend and accomplished writer said them to me, her eyes sparkled. It's taken me several books of my own to understand why. How can I possibly make sense of a craft so amorphous and shape-shifting that it seems to have no rules or boundaries?

The solution lies in treating your creation as a living, breathing organism. A tree.

In the soil of your writer's mind, you'll discover what might or might not be a seed. If you plant it with care, it could sink roots and grow into something tall, evocative and beautiful. If that seed is to grow at all, it will need plenty of sunlight, air, and nourishment--that is, the writer's version of those things.

Sunlight, for a writer, comes in the form of observation. Notice the world around you. How do different people speak, with their voices, faces, hands and posture? How do autumn leaves fall to the ground, each with a singular sort of flight? How do different ideas cast light on people's passions, fears, hopes, and dreams? Your characters will stand up, walk off the page and speak to you.

Air is belief. Your voice matters. Believe that you have valuable things to say--and the passion and skill to communicate them.

Nourishment takes the form of discipline. Writing may be the hardest work you'll ever do--and, if you persevere, the most gratifying work you'll ever do. But your seeds won't grow unless you work hard to bring them to life.

Finally, after receiving plenty of sunlight, air and nourishment, your writer's tree will bear fruit that others may enjoy. It will also feel wholly authentic--for at the core, good fiction must be true.

And perhaps, when the wind whistles through its branches, you will hear the full expression of a secret, half-remembered song. --T.A. Barron