How To Properly Harvest Your Very Best Ideas

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This post was written by Ollin Moralles. Ollin is a writer, blogger, and fellow Top 10 Blogs for Writers receipient. You can check out his blog, Courage to Create, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for writing this great post, Ollin!

The gardener plants his seeds and knows to wait before he ever pulls the fully formed plant out from the ground. He knows that there is a dark period that the plant must go through before it can bear any fruit.

During this dark period, everything is obscure. The gardener cannot see the plant grow, and no matter how hard the gardener works—nothing at all seems to come of his tremendous effort.

He toils day and night. Sacrifices so much. Uses the clearest water, the richest soil, and the best plant food to help the seed grow.

Photo by Tony Fischer

For so long, the gardener waits. He receives no medals, no applause, and no recognition. And worst of all, no one even knows what he’s talking about when he says he’s working on growing a plant. There is not sliver of evidence that any plant exists (besides the dream of a plant in the gardener’s mind) and so it is easy for others to think that the gardener is either wasting his time—or he’s just plain crazy.

But the gardener is wise. He knows to wait. He knows that the dark period is essential. There, hidden from sight, the plant is growing. It is growing. It is growing. It is growing.

A gardener knows you don't pull out a plant from the ground too soon. The best produce must be cultivated at the right time. Timing is everything. And most importantly, the dark, hidden stages of life’s processes should not be disturbed.

What Writers Can Learn From Gardeners About How To Harvest Their Very Best Ideas

So many writers don't think “the dark period” of harvesting their creative ideas is necessary. They fret and worry and are sad that a lot of their ideas seem to be “bad.”

Unfortunately these writers don't have the patience of gardeners.

Don’t be like those writers.

Instead, treat you imagination like a garden. Not all of your ideas are ready for prime time. No, not yet. They need work, they need attention, they need care, and they need time.

It's very dangerous to pull out an “idea seed” before it's ready. You may kill it.

Now, I've been known to tell writers to throw away all their bad ideas. Some writers reject this recommendation. They think they might lose something valuable in the tossing.

But that fear is silly.

Because when you trash all your bad ideas, you know what ends up happening? Those “bad ideas” are given more time to grow and mature and then, like a miracle, they come back to you as great ideas.

What you may not know is that the bad idea you currently have isn't a bad idea at all. It's just a great idea that hasn't matured yet.

Be A Smart Harvester:  Always Let Your Ideas Mature Before You Use Them.

So many writers these days are bad gardeners. They’re so impatient. On a daily basis, they dig out all their “idea seeds” and check to see if they’re ready, disturbing the vital dark period that every idea must go through in order to become great.

Don't be like that.

Instead, leave the bad ideas there, in the dark, beneath the ground. Trust that, in time, these bad ideas will mature into great ideas.

Something to Try

Put all your ideas into four groups: “bad,” “okay,” “good,” and, finally, “great” ideas. Then do the following:

Bad ideas: look at these ideas with love and attention and then put them back into the soil of your imagination. Let them stay in the dark for a while. (Read: trash them.)

Okay ideas: see them as plants that are just about to bud. Give them lots of love and attention and they will come around in the next few months. (Read: archive them.)

Good ideas: mark them as plants that are almost ready to bear fruit. Don't extract them yet, however:  just know that they may be ripe in the next few weeks. (Read: leave them in your line of sight. On your desktop, maybe.)

Great ideas: these are the ideas that you’re absolutely in love with. These ideas are ready to harvest today. Pick their fruit and use them immediately. (Read: use them in your novel, blog post, or article today.)


For fifteen minutes, write down a portrait of your “writer self” as a gardener. In this little story, make sure it is clear what kind of “writer-gardener” you have been. Are you an impatient gardener that pulls out his “seeds” out of the ground too soon? Or are you the “patient” writer-gardener who waits until his ideas are fully formed into plants? Share your story with us in the comments below!

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  1. Angelo Dalpiaz

    I like this post, it has given me lots to think about.

    Unfortunately, I’m the impatient gardner. But I am learing patience, but slowly.

    My idea seeds come to me at some of the oddest times. When I wake in the middle of the night and stare at the dark ceiling, or when I’m driving my car. Sometimes they show up when I hear a song, or someone says something that just strikes a chord with me. Those are the “seeds” of my writing.

    I find myself thinking the story through to the ending before I even give much thought to the middle. But I have been forcing myself to pull back and give some thought to the scenes in between the beginning and the end.

    Here’s what I’ve been doing.
    I think about a couple of scenes in the story that I want to include. I write those scenes then put them aside. When I begin to write the beginning of the story I pull those scenes out. I’ve found that writing a scene from the story invariably adds to more scenes, then I write those too.

    I’d say my writing is less like a pepper plant that grows straight up, nice and neat. It’s more like a cucumber plant, with vines running in every direction, but eventually ending with fruit.

    • AliceFleury

      I was just thinking about what you are talking about. Just writing the scenes I know will happen in the story and put them in order later. I too have a beginning and and end and the middle is reaching all over the place. I had decided to just write the scenes I know and see what happens. Glad I’m not alone in this.

    • Ollin Morales

      Loved the description! Haha, your readers are so imaginative Joe. I’m impressed and delighted! 🙂 Thanks Angelo!

    • Marianne Vest

      That’s a good idea about writing some scenes just as separate scenes. I love your analogy about the pepper plant and the cucumber vine.

    • Yvette Carol

      Ha ha, good luck with those cucumbers Angelo. Don’t worry, everyone’s way has validity!!

  2. AliceFleury

    This post makes us look into our soul. And the pumpkin thing, it is true.

    I hate the sun. I forget to water.

    I planted pumpkin seeds once. The vine grew long and strong. Its leaves broad and beautiful as its tendrils latched themselves into the earth. I thought surely, I would get a pumpkin out of this great plant. Each flower opened smiling. But the smile was a smirk. For each small fruit that formed grew to half an inch and rotted, leaving me with a broken heart.

    As the vine grew reaching across my lawn I watered it, fertilized it, smiled and loved it. Every time I saw the tiny pumpkin form I hoped. Always the fruit shriveled. I finally ripped the damn thing out and dragged its deception to the trash.
    Sometimes I think an idea is unique and full of wonderful words, but it grows to fast strangling the truth within. I think when they say to write what we know; they mean to tell the truth. The author’s truth.

    And so my thumbs aren’t green but my heart and brain won’t let me quit. Maybe it’s time to grow mushrooms.

    • Ollin Morales

      Wow, what a beautiful description of the writing process for you, although sad. I hope your next “pumpkin” will grow plump and beautiful! Good luck to you!

    • Diane Turner

      What lovely imagery. Here’s to fat and glorious pumpkins.
      Nice work.

    • Marianne Vest

      That sounds awful for you. I think you will have some big pumpkins soon. I think you write well.

    • Yvette Carol

      This struck me as beautiful too. I admit I had to laugh though, over thinking each one would result in a pumpkin only to have them wither & rot at half size….A poetical way of putting it to be sure!

  3. jwritesb

    My garden looks bare. Tools scatter across the vast landscape. They have been used. Medium patches of earth wait for their Moment in a well-tilled act of patience. Slightly crooked grooves permit the fertile landscape a future of prosperity, but while the weather behaves like a frustrating game of keno uncertain spirits float in the humid air.

    Often times the farmer lets the thoughts of weather get the best of him. He prepares one area only to ignore the needs of another. When a patch looks the best it ever has he turns away and finds an extremely valid, so sooooo valid, excuse to motor over to Lowes and buy a bag of zucchini seeds. There is a new version that needs, needs, to be bought. Once he has those seeds, summon the parade, because this year the Harvest Festival is going to be a New York City blowout.

    Sometimes his motivations are corrupted. Obsession with a farm across the road leads to negligence. Plants wither as blind competition shakes his soul. But he is young. His youth nourishes him with optimism and bright hopes for a future. The garden has not flowered, but at this time and place and age that is okay, right? One day everybody will come over to his fancy house and sit around his mahogany table and he will take off the sweaty white t-shirt and put on his post-seven-pm tuxedo and appertifs will be served without the slightest bit of irony and they will laugh and laugh and my oh my how the jean overalls we used to wear will be laughed at. Ha ha! The silliness of youth! What’s on the schedule and how do we plan on changing the world my illustrious guests? Enjoy my bountiful harvest and lets joke about the days when tilling was a difficult chore. And Kingsley, more champagne. With haste dear boy.

    • Ollin Morales

      This was a beautiful description. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Yvette Carol

    Ever known the type of gardener who fusses over one vegetable to the exclusion of all the others? To the extent that the other vegetables get jealous, and some even start to wither and die for lack of attention? That, ah, yeah, that would be me. I have to out myself here as a completely rotten gardener. I am like the one-eyed cyclops, seeing my baby alone. Nothing else exists in my garden other than the chosen ONE. Tiptoe into my garden with care, don’t dare take a bite out of anything there, for if you do, you shall while away many many years within it and never know the pathos of time passing, never wake up to the fact that in the real world you have grown old….

    • Marianne Vest

      I think sometimes you have to be a little obsessive, and have some tunnel vision in order to complete a long work or even a short one sometimes. I am the other way around I fiddle with one thing and then another and nothing is ever finished, so I applaud your staying with one baby and raising it correctly.

      • Yvette Carol

        Ho! Beware of encouraging the one-eyed Cyclops Marianne. I’m bad enough as it is!!
        But seriously…thank you 🙂

    • AliceFleury

      Yvette, I agree with Marianne. Probably better than having a dozen unfinished manuscripts. But I feel your pain, sometimes you have to let go if the one your eye is on isn’t going anywhere, it’s time to preen the next one.

      great analogy.

      • Yvette Carol

        Thanks Alice, for feeling the pain. Letting go…how does one do that again???

    • Ollin Morales

      That’s completely fine, Yvette. I focus only on my novel these days. I think that as long as your are caring for one plant that’s okay. This idea that you have to have a full garden in order to be considered a true gardener is ridiculous. One plant qualifies you. Wait, what am I talking about. I’m stuck in my own extended metaphor, lol. But I think you understand what I mean.

      • Yvette Carol

        Thanks Ollin. Great name by the way! Yes I do know what you mean. Focussing has produced fruit too (see, I’m extending along with you), in that it’s been a fertile learning ground for me to extend the craft. I have come to realize (a nod to Write Practice here) that I have only gotten inside the heads of one or two, maybe three, characters at most. I am heading for a serious rewrite now!!

  5. Watertoaster

    I am a wanna be gardener. Every year I talk about how THIS will be the year I manage to at least grow a simple herb garden. I have a huge balcony up high enough over the trees here in the Pacific Northwest to actually receive all possible available sunlight. The results of this spring induced desire vary from year to year. One year, I went to Home Depot and purchased a gigantic bag of Miracle Grow soil, seeds for serrano chilies, tomatoes, cilantro, oregano, and green onions, some kind of little fertilizer sticks and those plastic greenhouse-like containers with many compartments. All items needed to successfully get some seedlings started. A “weekend” in which to get started is reserved. I read all the instructions and follow them diligently. Within a week, a few seeds begin to sprout through the soil. I get excited, over-water them, and show them off to anyone who comes over. Dream about the salsa and soups to which I will be adding them. At some point, the needs of the human life forms in the house overwhelm me. I spend less and less time with the seedlings. Suddenly I remember my plants and notice some are begin to wilt. There are strong ones that survive and thrive despite my negligence. They begin to outgrow their space but soon die off too, because I never take the time to transplant them outside. Maybe this will be the year.

    • Ollin Morales

      Maybe you can take Yvette Carol’s advice (in the comments below) and just focus on one idea seed at a time–that way it’s not so overwhelming for you? Thanks for sharing!

  6. Louise

    Wonderful imagery. I never thought of writing quite as gardening before.
    But you’re absolutely correct.

    • Ollin Morales

      Thanks Louise. Although I think the imagery of some of Write Practice’s readers are a lot better than mine! Check em out. They’re very impressive. 🙂

  7. Casey

    I love to look in seed catalogs and imagine the possibilities. I get bad case of the I-wants, and then I make plans for a garden larger than I have space for. I have a lot of yard space, but I don’t really have that much time to go poking around in my garden. And towards the end of the growing season I get lazy. I don’t want to water, and I don’t want to weed. There comes a point when I don’t want to harvest anymore either. I’m content to let the squirrels eat the tomatoes and the zucchini. I never even get a chance at the sunflowers.

    That’s how I garden. Honest to God truth.

    How weird. I see some parallels here. My gardening habits mirror my writing habits.

    • Ollin Morales

      I loved this exercise! Looks like people are having some great self-reflecting moments that are revealing their writing habits to them in whole new ways. I hoped as much. Great work Casey. Maybe a great way to change your habits is start with your actual garden and hopefully that habit will spill into your writing? Good luck to you.

  8. Ashley

    I am a rapist. I know. It’s awful. But, I am. Every day I walk outside and stick my fingers into that fresh soil, ripping out weeds and buds of all kinds. Sometimes, I pull out flowers I think are weeds and weeds I think are flowers. But, it really doesn’t matter, because unless I indulge joyously in the sight and aroma of that plant, it doesn’t have the right to remain in my small patch of soil.
    There’s a hoe, stabbing the back of my brain and telling me that it’s not right. I already know that, though. It’s discrimination against any of the beautiful, unique shrubs and flowers that would have thrived had my pruning shears not been so quick to draw.
    My garden isn’t a beautiful thing. I want to say that it’s something I’m proud of. I can’t say that. I have dug up all of the weeds and flowers that weren’t love at first sight and the ones that still remain don’t grow from my heart any longer; they grow from my pride, from the concrete soil that provides no nourishment.
    I may try restarting my garden. Asking more experienced growers about which soil to use and what flowers are best to grow in my type of small, underdeveloped garden. However, I don’t think I’ll do that. Not just yet. I will take that stubborn, pride-weaved soil, and slowly work in the right nutrients and love, so that those plants that thrived from tender soil will grow once more, making my heart flutter.
    I will revoke my rapist ways, as well. I will look at those weeds with hope instead of frustration, and pray that they will end up as flowers. I will look at the flowers with greed instead of pity, and encourage them to grow into beautiful, thriving plants; I won’t rip away their life until I’ve given it a chance.



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