We investigate how a local topographic disturbance of a flat seabed may become morphodynamically active, according to the linear instability mechanism which gives rise to sandwave formation. The seabed evolution follows from a Fourier integral, which can generally not be evaluated in closed form. As numerical integration is rather cumbersome and not transparent, we propose an analytical way to approximate the solution. This method, using properties of the fastest growing mode only, turns out to be quick, insightful, and to perform well. It shows how a local disturbance develops gradually into a sandwave packet, the area of which increases roughly linearly with time. The elevation at the packet's center ultimately tends to increase, but this may be preceded by an initial stage of decrease, depending on the spatial extent of the initial disturbance. In the case of tidal asymmetry, the individual sandwaves in the packet migrate at the migration speed of the fastest growing mode, whereas the envelope moves at the group speed. Finally, we apply the theory to trenches and pits and show where results differ from an earlier study in which sandwave dynamics have been ignored.