I am always looking for ways that real life mirrors the writing process for me. I came across one the other day that is sticking (pun intended) with me. My son is doing a project for school on trees and as part of that project we attempted to make our own maple syrup. Throughout the process, I was reminded of writing over and over again.
Before you even start you have to identify the right trees. It’s way easier to do this if you identified the trees when it’s summer or fall when you can go by the leaves. Then you tap the trees when the weather starts to shift, when the nights stay cold and the days get warmer so the sap starts to flow. You drill into the tree, deep enough to access the sap but not too deep to damage the tree. After the trees are tapped, you wait as the bucket fills, drip by drip by drip. Once you’ve collected enough sap, you filter it to get out any large impurities, bugs, dirt etc..
And then you boil. It takes hours. You have to watch it make sure it’s not boiling over. You have to watch it to make sure it doesn’t evaporate completely away. You have to watch it to know when to combine 3 pots down to 2 and then finally down to one. As it boils, the sap changes to become darker, until it’s finally a deep amber. It thickens from the consistency of water to syrup. You have to watch it check the temperature to know the exact moment it changes from sap to syrup. When we were almost done boiling, we kept asking each other. Do you think it’s ready? How do we know it’s ready? Could it be ready? And ultimately, we had to take the risk that it was ready, filter one last time and put it into jars.
When I write, I have to pick the right idea off my list. I can’t just choose any idea, it’s got to be something special. Then I have to let the idea sit until it’s just the right time to start writing, if I start before the idea is formed it won’t work on the page. My ideas have to be ready so the words can start dripping. Timing is everything.
And then I write word by word by word. It’s slow going.
It takes a lot of patience.
Writing takes a lot of patience. Revising takes even more patience. When writing picture books, you have to take a giant idea and distill it down to its essence. Boil down that story to the 400 sweetest most important words.
When I write, I have to filter and boil and boil and filter until I find my story. My story changes from one big loose fragment of an idea to something where every word matters, it changes into something that has flavor and sweetness and warmth and color.
What was once 5 gallons of sap became a little less than 20 ounces of syrup. It may not look like much, but I bet it’s going to taste awesome on some waffles.