I find that as art grows and matures, it passes through several stages, each of which has its own challenges and requires its own outlook.

Seed Stage

The first stage in growing your idea is, of course, having the idea in the first place. If you’re a dreamer like me, it’s easy to overvalue this stage. You might even be tempted to worry about people trying to steal your precious idea. But you’ll quickly find that it’s almost impossible to get someone who is even interested in your ideas let alone desirous to do anything with them.

Developing an idea to completion is a massive investment, and many people wonder how to tell if their idea is good or not. In his book Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain, Scott Adams says the test is to see how many people see the potential of your idea when you explain it to them. It doesn’t matter how many say it’s a terrible idea; every great idea had its naysayers back in the day. But the more people who approve of it, the more likely it is to be a good idea.

My own test is to ignore the idea and let it fall to the wayside. I’m often full of ideas, and if I need more, all I have to say is that I’m going to focus on one project to the exclusion of any others. After that, my brain quickly overflows with new ideas. But the best ones always come back. They keep knocking on the door to my brain saying, “Make me, make me!” And eventually, I do.

Dreamers like me tend to think of the seed stage as the halfway point. After all, if step 1 is coming up with the idea and step 2 is carrying it out, then that sort of feels right. But in truth, the seed stage is but the first stage in a long process, and it is by far the easiest.

Sprouting Stage

Just as a seed looks almost nothing like the plant it will one day grow into, an idea will go through many iterations and stages before reaching its final form. My post “Measure Once, Cut Twice” explores this concept in more detail. I’ll summarize here that it’ll take a lot of work at this stage for even you to understand your idea. If you seem to have a clear picture of the idea in your head, but when you try to explain it to someone else, you can’t get out a tenth of what’s in your head, that’s a good sign that you don’t really understand your idea as well as you think you do.

Once you get to the sprouting stage, you’ve developed your idea to the point where you have something that you can show to others. It’s still got a ways to go, but it’s starting to do what it was meant to do, and other dreamers will be able to see the potential of what could be, based on what already is. This is often the best place to start asking for help.

Many dreamers go all out trying to get a group of people together at the seed stage. They try to gather anyone who will help them but aren’t able to give any clear instructions on what they need or a clear picture of what they’re trying to accomplish, and what clarity they do have changes week to week. And then as soon as the project gets difficult, they get burnt out and quit. I’ve seen many dreamers acting as if they are honoring mere mortals by giving them a chance to help grow and tend their seed without so much as charging them for the opportunity. I’ve joined a few projects at this stage, and they always die before sprouting. So I’ve learned to wait for the sprout, wait for the evidence that the person is dedicated to caring and tending their idea instead of appreciating it in the abstract.

Pruning Stage

As you tend and develop your idea, you’ll come to get a clearer picture of the core concept, and you’ll also start to notice parts of the piece that no longer serve to further that core concept. In fact, they actually detract from it. As a writer, maybe I’ll find a scene that I really liked, but which is undermining the theme of the pacing of the piece as a whole, or two characters I added to the story that really should be combined into one. It’s tempting to believe that since you’ve invested time, energy, and resources into making your piece a certain way, you’re wasting all that effort if you cut it out. But pruning dead growth is a necessary process in making room for new life, and similarly, your piece can’t be what it was meant to be unless you take away the parts that don’t fit.

Blossoming Stage

At the blossoming stage, your piece has matured into something beautiful and good that brings benefit to other people. Maybe it functions as a beautiful flower that brings joy and beauty and that others can use to express their feelings. Maybe it brings fruit that nourishes and heals. Maybe it serves as the lumber that supports and enhances someone else’s project. Regardless, this is where all your care and effort has paid off. I wish I had more to say about this stage, but as of the time of this writing, I have very little experience here myself. Hopefully, I will have more to say in the coming years.

Composting Stage

Not all your ideas will grow to completion. Sometimes they die due to lack of care. Sometimes it just wasn’t the right season. Sometimes an outside force came in and killed it. But in the Kingdom of God, nothing good is truly ever wasted, and all worthwhile things will be resurrected. You’ll find that your dead and discarded ideas have a way of coming back. On future projects, you’ll have a source of ideas from projects past that will fill in gaps in what you’re currently working on, and you’ll often find that these ideas come back more refined and stronger for having been discarded.

This blog post itself was a combination of two blog posts I had written which had fallen apart. Neither had enough content to stand on its own, but by combining them together, I had a single, strong post instead of two weak ones.

Cameron Miller, writer
Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

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