What I Wish I’d Known as a New Writer: Ripeness

I’ve started and deleted the beginning of this series of posts for a long time. Often I do my best thinking once I’ve dropped Bryon off on my commute across town, and I’ll have the occasional thought about something that I wish someone had told me when I started pursuing writing seriously. So, I’m framing a series of entries that address some of those thoughts about things I would tell myself if the me-of-now could talk to, say, the me of a variety of earlier times.

These entries aren’t meant to be advice or steps or anything like that. It’s just stuff that I wish I’d known. I doubt I’d even believe some of these things, but I could look back and say, “Oh yeah. I knew that” if someone had told me this.

The first thing I’d talk to myself about is this: ripeness.

You know, spring and summer are coming! And with the growing seasons comes fresh, sun-kissed fruit. You know what I’m talking about. Sweet, sweet strawberries warmed by the sun. Apples that taste rich and delicious. Succulent plums. Juicy oranges.

Right now, the produce section is filled with sour, pulpy spheres of color-injected winter fruit. It’s fruit that’s doing it’s best to pretend to be summer fruit, but it’s, um, well, I can eat it, but I don’t really enjoy it.

Our U.S. culture is such a prestige, goal-oriented culture. I love to check things off a list and reach goals. However, what I wish is that I had spent much more of my life enjoying the moment, taking as long as something took, learning something thoroughly. Like tai chi. I’ve been studying tai chi for a long time. I learn tai chi in increments. It’s an ongoing process that takes a long time, and each time I practice, I learn a little more of the subtle nuance of the art.

Yes, yes. Fruit, tai chi. Get to the point.

Regrettably, writing had long been associated in my mind with goal-oriented tasks. Achieve this outline by this date, write this many words a day, and so forth. Like most new authors, my goal was to finish a draft, polish the draft, and then get it out the door. This is a bit like trying to sell winter fruit. I have something that looks like a book, but it tastes kind of pulpy and sour. It’s not the experience of summer fruit. (I liked your apple, but I didn’t really fall in LOVE with it.)

Now, like most authors trying to break in, the process looks more like this: finish the draft, have others read the draft, revise the draft, have others read the draft, edit the draft for language and economy, and send it out there.

I’ll admit, even that sounds formulaic to me. Good ole Donald Maass suggests that there might be two kinds of authors: status seekers and storytellers. Although most authors exist as a combination of the two, you can tell them apart (in terms of broad strokes).

Status seekers want that work out there, they want it selling, and they want people to think well of it. They almost see promotion as more important than writing, and they try to focus on what the market might want so they can sell a book.

Storytellers care about the story. They want to get the story right, and might ask for more time to get the story right. If faced with promoting a book and writing the next book, they might choose the next book. They tend to tell the stories they want to, and don’t think about the market.

I seem to lean more toward the storyteller side of things. I thought long and hard about how to promote Hulk Hercules, and then I realized that with my limited free time, I’d rather right the next story and keep sending work out. If my career as a writer never takes off, at least I’ll have the comfort of telling stories. As I’ve often said, that’s success for me.

What I would tell earlier me, however, is that it is less important to figure out whether you are a status seeker or a story teller. What is more important is that you grow a really delicious, succulent juicy story. The kind where the aroma of it leaps from the table at the farmer’s market, and you pick it up because it is unusual and fresh. It’s the best story you’ve ever bitten into. (Am I going too far with this analogy? I’m getting kind of hungry and ready for summer.)

The way I do that is to take my time with the story. That’s why I shifted my focus from words and goals to time this year. Another thing good ole Donald Maass suggests is that drafts are never completed, they are usually abandoned. I don’t mind revisiting drafts and revising, because it makes my story better. What I think I need writer me needed to know is this:

A story is never done.

If you’re lucky, at some stage the story will be beautiful enough that it will be published, but you will always find the problems with it. Lucky you to see the blemish on the fruit. But if you wait until the story is ripe, in the fullness of time, you will be more satisfied. Years later, you’ll be pleased that your first published work was well-grown summer fruit, rather than a sour winter nectarine that tastes like cardboard.

To sum: Take the time to develop your story. This isn’t a set amount of time (I know there are deadlines, but we’ll talk about that later.). Don’t think days. Think months and years. Think revisions. Think feedback. Don’t think goals and getting your name out there.

Caveat: At some point, you’re going to have to send that draft out. If you accidentally pluck the story from the vine before it’s ripe, you’ll know. You can always try again, but don’t expect someone to like under-grown fruit, and don’t be surprised if you don’t have any takers when you haven’t taken enough time.

Next: Patience. Oy vey.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

3 thoughts on “What I Wish I’d Known as a New Writer: Ripeness”

  1. I think the fruit’s a very good analogy. I especially find it frustrating when other fruit is already being picked….and mine still isn’t ready!

  2. I like what you say here. Like you, I have been very goal-oriented with my writing most of the time. Sometimes this works great, but sometimes a story needs longer to develop and doesn’t fit into my goal structure perfectly. I’m still working out how to deal with this, but one thing I know: It’s not something I can ignore!

    Thanks for this post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.