Ann Patchett’s short memoir of her writing life, “The Getaway Car,” collected in her book, This is The Story of a Happy Marriage, is one of the best things on writing I’ve read.
I particularly loved this bit, stealing like an artist meets a gardening metaphor:
You will take bits from books you’ve read and movies you’ve seen and conversations you’ve had and stories friends have told you, and half the time you won’t even realize you’re doing it. I am a compost heap, and everything I interact with, every experience I’ve had, gets shoveled onto the heap where it eventually mulches down, is digested and excreted by worms, and rots. It’s from that rich, dark humus, the combination of what you encountered, what you know and what you’ve forgotten, that ideas start to grow.
Of research, for example, she writes, “I try to shovel everything I learn onto the compost heap instead of straight into the book.”
I’ve often thought that an artist has to be like the Mr. Fusion device Doc Brown uses in Back To The Future, but I like the compost heap even better.
The cool thing about a compost heap is that you can throw whatever organic matter you want on it. (“Hold on to your anger,” Thich Nhat Hanh told bell hooks, “use it as compost for your garden.”)
If you’re just throwing stuff on the compost heap, you don’t have to worry about being pure, or perfect. (“Writing…always, always only starts out as shit,” David Rakoff said. It’s like “reverse-engineer a meal out of rotten food.”)
And, as Brian Eno told us, “Beautiful things grow out of shit.”