I was turning my compost pile the other day (something I do far too infrequently), when out rolled a little present – a tiny acorn squash about the size of a baseball!
I had to smile. Out of the scraps and neglect, this little gourd thrived and graced me with its totally unexpected existence.
Writing is like that sometimes. We toss excess ideas and research into a heap in the corner of our minds and forget they exist. We’re off on another writing adventure, too busy to care.
If we’re lucky and patient, the seeds in the debris sprout and grow into something we can harvest later.
Sometimes I’m a lazy writer (although not as lazy as I am a gardener). I don’t mind working hard at the writing, but I like to have ideas floating around within easy reach. I repurpose much of my writing – adapt something I’ve written to a different audience or use some of the research in a different way.
Yet, like all writers, I will hit that desert where all creativity dries up. Sustenance is absent at every turn.
In desperation, I’ll dig deep, turning over the detritus of my former efforts. More often than not, I’ll find those ideas I abandoned so long ago have matured. They anchor some of my favorite work.
How do we harvest these serendipitous ideas?
- Don’t panic! In the throes of creative abandonment and faced with a deadline, we often start jabbing around at everything. Don’t put your intellectual pitchfork through that innocent idea.
- Go gently through that waste. Quietly, gently turn over the ideas you worked on before. Read through old work. Revisit ideas you’ve tucked away in notebooks, on your mobile device, or in piles of scrap paper. I keep a personal journal where I jot down my strange ideas or observations.
- Keep the compost together. Compost cooks best in a confined space. Try to keep any ideas you write down in one area. I know this is hard. I’m constantly finding scribbled bits of paper all over the house, my office, and even my car. This makes harvesting those ideas that much harder.
- Only take what is ripe. Like Venus birthed from the sea and my little acorn squash nestled in old coffee grounds, the best ideas are the ones that present themselves full blown. Don’t try to force ideas that are still developing.
- Feed the pile. Compost constantly needs more scraps — and the right type of material — to work itself into great soil. Don’t forget to write down that crazy idea you had or the funny conversation you eavesdropped on. Create those directions for a robot that doesn’t exist yet. You will be surprised how bountiful those things can be when you need them most.
- Leave it alone. Good gardeners turn their compost regularly to prevent seeds from sprouting. We’ve got a different purpose. We want those little seeds to grow. Contribute to the pile then walk away. Let nature take its course.
Someday soon I’ll have that little squash for dinner, but not yet. For now, enthroned on my kitchen counter, it reminds me how miraculous compost can be.