Tuesday, May 1, 2012


by Marsheila Rockwell

That’s not always true of course, but it’s a good rule of thumb for aspiring writers who may not yet be able to tell when an idea is ready to pick off that tree we all have growing in our backyard, and when it still needs to ripen a bit.

This concept of “the ripening idea” was one I first learned from Orson Scott Card’s seminal How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy back in college, and it has served me well ever since. You see, when that lovely idea first blossoms on the tree, it looks so shiny and perfect that you just want to pick it, even if you don’t have a clue what you’re going to do with it.

My advice? Same thing I’d have said to Eve, or Persephone, or the Fairest Of Them All – resist the temptation! Chances are good that your shiny, delicious-looking idea is not ready to be consumed just yet, and if you try, you’re only going to give yourself indigestion (and likely any editors you submit your unripe story to, as well).

More than that – be suspicious. When an idea seems to sprout full-grown on the idea tree, it’s usually because, even though it looks new and fresh, it’s anything but. “Bullocks,” you protest indignantly, “there are no new ideas – just old ones repackaged in new ways!” And you’re right, of course, but when you pick the idea off the tree the minute it catches your eye, you’re not repackaging it – you’re regurgitating it. And that way lies rejection.

Instead, whip out your handy-dandy notebook, make note of the idea and its location on the tree, and write it down. Keep an eye on it. Watch it grow. Do the same with other shiny ideas that bloom. Periodically shake the tree, and see what falls to the ground. Those ideas? The ones that fall easily, but don’t bruise when they land? They’re the ripe ones. But even they probably aren’t quite ready to be made into a story yet. Not by themselves.

But don’t despair. You’ve probably already got some ideas that you plucked off the tree before they were ready. Some of those went bad and you had to toss them, but some are still usable, if you can find the right ingredients to mix them with – one of the ideas that just fell when you shook the tree, perhaps? That idea from two years ago in Vegas (not everything stays there), a dollop of that one you had three months ago while stuck in traffic behind a garbage truck trailing toilet paper streamers (don’t laugh – that actually happened to me), and two quick shakes of that idea that first caught your eye just last week (the one you wanted to write about right away, but didn’t, because you read this article). Those three ideas, blended together – that’s your story. The one that’s going to get published.

See? Those guys selling Guinness were right – good things really do come to those who wait. So pour yourself a glass to celebrate your sale. Cheers!

Marsheila Rockwell's story, Epidora, will be featured in next month's issue of Penumbra.

"Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell is the author of three novels for Wizards of the Coast (Skein of Shadows, 2012, The Shard Axe, 2011, and Legacy of Wolves, 2007), as well as the Arabian-flavored, female-centric sword & sorcery series Tales of Sand and Sorcery, available from Musa Publishing. Find out more here: http://www.marsheilarockwell.com/."


Sharon Ledwith said...

Bet you were an alchemist in a past life, Marcy! Great post! Will share and tweet. Cheers!

Joanna Fay said...

Nice analogy, Marcy..and congrats on your story coming out in Penumbra. :)

stefansbookshelf said...

Great article and congrats on the new story coming out. It made me subscribe to Penumbra.

Sloane Taylor said...

Congratulations on your new story, Marcy!

Wonderful article!You've convinced me throw manure on my idea tree. Or should that be on the fruit that turned to manure because I plucked it too soon? You've made me think and take a step back. Thank you.

Nancy DiMauro said...

Great article, Marcy. Congratulations on your story too.

Derek said...

Smart thinking, Marcy! Now where did I put my notebook? :o)

Marcy said...

Thanks for the kind comments, all!

@Stefan - you're fast becoming my #1 fan, LOL!

@Derek - have you checked Side Table Drawer? Heh.