I’m a graduate student at a certain money-loving, faux-progressive New York institution (HIGHLY UNRELATED fact: did you know that NYU was recently under fire for using abusing migrant labor in the building of its ABU FRICKIN’ DHABI campus? Whoopee!), and my break lasts until January 5th. In the meantime, I’m spending some time first with my family, then waaaaaay upstate with my boyfriend’s family, and then with my grandparents. Which hasn’t left a whole lot of time for blogging or writing.
My agenda, which I use faithfully, has a lot of uncrossed “WRITE BLOG POST” and “JOURNAL” entries.
But I’m still working my way through Page After Page, and the most recent writing exercise she suggests is working yourself into a trance to write your compost.
Her concept of compost is this: the rich, raw, seething material of your life that you’ve left buried in the back of your mind and heart, working its own magic and turning into writing gold. (Of course, I think she doesn’t realize that in order for material to become usable compost in the first place it has to be turned over regularly to be exposed to the air– so if you want your compost to be gold, you have to mull it over, you can’t just have forgotten it.)
It’s a new presentation of the adage “Write what you know.” She says the little details and events we think are too boring, too insignificant, too shameful, too revealing, too shocking, too immoral, too routine, or too stupid to share about our lives are actually what makes the richest writing material.
But how do we get at this compost if we’ve forgotten about it? Sellers advises getting into a trance. Light some candles, pray or meditate, soak in a bath. Anything to get ourselves into a state of calm, where we can access our memory and flow.
I don’t know if that would work, necessarily, but I do know that having rituals can help. Writing in the same place, with the same pen, the same drink at hand– maintaining certain physical routines can train your mind that when the cues appear, it’s time to work. For example, each time I go to write, I play a rotating selection of albums that I find engaging but not distracting, I light a candle, and I wear this truly great, velvet paisley overshirt.
If you have any writing rituals that help you get in the mood–or tips on accessing your compost, I’d love to hear about them!