August 7, 2012

A Story is a Seed

        (Warning: I'm waxing philosophical about writing today, so anyone with no interest in that can just admire today's selection of block prints and then get on with their day!)
        For any of you out there with a Sunday School upbringing, remember the Parable of the Sower?  There's a farmer sowing seeds, but some of the seeds fall on the path and get eaten by birds before they can germinate.  Some fall on rocky soil and don't have roots deep enough to withstand drought.  Some fall among weeds and grow for a while but are eventually choked out.  But some seeds fall in good soil and grow, and produce abundant harvest.  In the New Testament the seeds represent the word of God, but this same sort of metaphor has been in my mind recently with the sower representing the storyteller and the seeds the stories.
        It isn't a new idea to say that writers and artists are creators and therefore analogous to gods.  (For a really dense, thought-provoking consideration of how a writer is like God, and how God is like a writer, try The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers.)  But that isn't my purpose here.  I'm just borrowing the imagery of the parable for a purely secular exploration of what it means to put a story out into the world.  After all, like the sower, the writer can't really control how the world treats her seeds.  Presumably marketing might be analogous to watering the garden or something, but a farmer can't make a seed grow, and a writer can't make people read, or control their reaction if they do.  You can simply sow your stories and hope that some of them fall in the good soil of readers who will take them to heart.
        I have a tendency to think of my stories as my babies, and feel nervous about sending them out alone into the world without protection.  But if I use a seed metaphor instead, maybe it's easier to think about the neccessity of letting them spread out onto the earth.  After all, until it gets down onto the soil, a seed is only a potential plant.  A seed needs to fall onto the ground to sprout into a plant, and I think perhaps a story needs to fall onto the soil of reader before it can sprout, too.  As long as it stays in the seed packet it's just one tiny grain, but if it can germinate and grow, the eventual harvest might be thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold…
        Of course metaphors always fall apart eventually, and mine falls apart when I realize that I'm just no sower.  Where some people seem able to broadcast their stories over vast acreages, I seem able to plant little more than a short row in my backyard garden.  And how can my stories find their proper soil if I can't seem to get them sown anywhere beyond my own feet?  Still, I've found it helpful to think of myself as a sower and know that my only job is to get the very best seed I can, and plant it as well as I can.  But after that… it's the work of the sun and the rain, and let's just hope there aren't too many rocks and weeds.  And in the meantime, let me see what more seeds I might have in me.

[Pictures: The Parable of the Sower, woodcut from Kirchen Postilla by Martin Luther, 1554 (Image from Pitts Theology Library);
Parable of the Sower, woodcut by Christoffel van Sichem from Het Niewe Testament, 1646 (Image from Pitts Theology Library);
Harvest scene from The Chronicles of England by Raphael Holinshed, 1577 (Image from The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.)]

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