Composting Your Writing Experience
by Writing Workshops Org Admin
A year ago
Several years ago, anxious about climate change and the waste we produced in our home, I ordered a worm composter off of Amazon. This half-barrel sized contraption arrived in the mail with instructions to attach the legs and order worms from Mr. Jim’s Worm Farm. I went online, and within a few clicks, thousands of worms personally curated by Mr. Jim were on their way.
Ten days later, a small, dense package came in the mail. After peeling back the brown paper packaging to reveal a brick of dirt, the instructions told me to soak the brick in a bucket of water and then place the mud it made into my composter. My worms, located in that dirt brick, would then happily eat all my plant waste and turn it into rich soil.
Although my husband was a bit squeamish—and kids disappointed I got them worms instead of the puppy they had been lobbying for that year—we fell into a natural rhythm of dumping the carrot peels, watermelon rinds, eggshells, apple cores, lettuce stalks, and other raw waste into the bin daily. At first, it didn’t appear as though much was happening at all. The worms wiggled in and around the mess of food, and they seemed to be making more worms, which in turn writhed around the food we added. After a few months, we noticed at the bottom of the bin a thin layer of rich, black, and fibrous dirt ready to go in our garden.
When I think about writing, I think about those worms in their bin; wiggling and writhing around, letting the magic of their biology turn waste into nutrients. I sit at my dining table, laptop open, cursor blinking. For the next hour or maybe two, I write, whether it’s good or bad, eloquent or crude, creative or flat, predictable or exciting. For moments, even whole minutes strung together, I will bask in the joy of this work. I get to write.
When I am finished, what rests on the page is suspended in unfinished glory. And then, I begin what I call the “pacing stage.” This is not a technical writing term; I physically pace around my dining room and work through the piece in my mind. I wrestle with whether the elements of the story are in the right order. I think about if I left out important details, or worse if I piled the piece with unnecessary information. I might sit back down and tweak the piece or not. After I pace, I let it rest. I let it breathe for a day or a week or even a month (although rarely), and I let a little bit of time work through the piece before returning with fresh eyes.
As a non-fiction writer, I have discovered that time composts experience into something rich. We start with what we know, we write from what we have experienced, but we do more than just write what we know. We turn our knowing into something that can connect to a truth readers can relate to. As the poet Mary Oliver says, “Do not worry, things take the time they take.”
Writing takes time. Not just time getting raw words on the page but time letting those words breathe and be edited. Giving a piece of work the time it needs may seem like a waste, but it is a valuable part of the process. It is often the part of the process that yields the rich, loamy substance in which your creativity and writing can grow.
I am less antsy in my work. I write; I wait; I edit. Somehow, yielding to a process that takes the time it takes has given me a certain kind of freedom. A piece works, or it doesn’t. It gets accepted, or it doesn’t. It’s not that the urgency of writing has left—I must write, and I want to share my writing. However, there is a mystery to what time does to our stories, our process that can leave us cradled in a sense of assurance and wildly free from expectation.