Monday, April 2, 2012

Growing Potatoes – The “Eyes” Have It!

(How to salvage unfinished stories.)

I remember when I was a kid and mom asked me to get some potatoes out for dinner. One of them had roots all over it. I asked her if it was any good. She snapped the roots off and assured me the spud was perfectly fine to eat. She explained that each potato has many “eyes,” and, if an eye was planted, it will grow another potato plant, producing more potatoes on its roots.

Does that sound like a challenge to you? It did to an eleven year old boy.

That night, I liberated a couple potatoes from mom’s supply and hid them under my bed. I checked every day and soon they had whitish roots hanging off each spud. Following mom’s theory, I cut the potatoes into small pieces with a root centered in each section. I planted those sprouts in a plot of ground at the back of our yard, and they grew into bushy potato plants--not at all attractive plants, but healthy, nevertheless.

Every book contains the seeds for other stories.

Time passed. I got a bit too excited and ruined the first crop by digging them up too soon. Lesson learned. A month later, I returned mom’s stolen potatoes several times over from my secret garden. It was amazing! A couple potatoes generated ten times that amount in only a few months. Mom admitted wondering where her potatoes had gone, but was happy to have the fresh supply.

Writing is a lot like planting potatoes. Each story may contain a bunch of “eyes,” that when nurtured, will grow into many more stories. It seems like written ideas are self-generating, much like the potato. The more you write, the more you discover to write about.

Perhaps the faithful old advice, “never stop writing,” works well because of the potato phenomenon. Every story, even an incomplete wannabe story, carries its own set of potato-eyes, each capable of spinning off another yarn, if planted in fertile literary soil and given basic rhetorical weeding. It’s an amazing truth about writing.

Next time you find yourself struggling for a new storyline, look into your literary potato-bin for the most gnarly looking, root-encrusted unfinished story. Examine it for “eyes” and shoots. Hidden storylines are right there inside that previous work. While it may have fizzled out as a finished product, many possible storylines could still exist in that unfinished work. Those stories wait like hopeful orphans, begging to be discovered and released into literary existence.

So, don’t ever toss out an abandoned storyline. Instead, toss it under your literary sink for a few months. Let it ripen. Then, when you ultimately bring it into the light again, you may see fresh new possibilities to be exploited and brought to life. Good writing!


  1. This is so true. I save all my babblings. Even if it is just a few lines long. The concepts or the character can be used either for its original design of for a better purpose yet to be determined.

    It is so nice when a thought process of concept A that was written two years ago, one day materializes when I was working on concept J of a vastly different but seemingly fitting storyline.

    My Lucifer's Travel's series was spawned from an eye of a potoatoe like you described and yes I spelled it with an e. Which led to the original title You Say Tornado, I Say Tornadoe.

    Point being is that you are spot on aboooot keeping storylines. Give them time to mature in your brain housing group and one day when the time is ripe, you'll be so happy you didn't throw out that potato just because it didn't look like something you would keep.

    Another great article of wisdome from a very great man and pool boy!

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Robert. Your experience illustrates the importance of seeking new shoots from your old works. Keep up the good writing. Dean

  2. I loved this. So far I haven not been able to do a novel,have a few short stories that may have "eyes". Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Sharon, novels happen when they are ready. You will keep noticing new shoots in prior writing, and one day, when you least expect it, you'll become obsessed with completing a that demands telling. The key is to never stop writing, because if you back away from the keyboard, nothing happens. Good writing, Dean


I would love to hear your thoughts about my blog.