How to Deal with Your Sh*t (Creatively)

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Believe it or not, there is a way to make the decomposing banana peels of your mind into fertile soil for creative growth. 

You will need:

1 stack of ‘rubbish’ (e.g. teenage love poems you now cringe at, hurriedly scribbled stories that you later look at and go ‘Gggggaaaaah!’, ideas that turn out to already have been done, etc.)

1 clothespeg (for your nose)

Some rubber gloves

A spade

Time

A strong stomach

Preferably a few friends to share the job with you

Yield: creative output limited only by the amount of coffee/childcare you can get your hands on.

Method:

Borrowing from a concept Natalie Goldman wrote about in her book Writing Down the Bones, this is a technique I love sharing at any creative writing workshops* and wish to see stretched far and wide for the positive results it yields. But the results might not be what you expect.

The method consists in mimicking the natural cycle of breakdown and fertility that a gardener knows so well. Dump your potato peelings, mouldy apples and wannabe David Bowie songs in a suitable place, where they will be neither too dry nor too wet. Sobbing uncontrollably over the heap from time to time does help to moisten it, but don’t overdo it or you’ll turn it into a soggy mess. Likewise, glaring at it with scalding derision will only kill the beneficial micro-organisms and roast the earthworms that will be busily breaking down your jetsam.

Layering your compost heap is also a great idea. It wants to have just the right p.h., slightly acidic, so if you pile too many citrus fruit peels in there it’ll be useful only for feeding to rhododendrons and blueberries. Jumble it up with sketches, songs, whatever. Good compost is food for plants: in a symbiotic process with humans, plants take what we consider to be revolting waste and turn it into something we find delicious. If you effect this method correctly, you’ll find tomatoes, potatoes, beans, squashes and all sorts of artistic wonders growing spontaneously out of your compost heap, seeded by all that detritus you thought was worth nothing.

The trick, however, is giving this pile of embarrassing scribbles, cack-handed scrawls and abandoned projects oxygen. Without it, the decomposition process becomes anaerobic, causing your otherwise excellent fertiliser to become something that is toxic to the earth and produces methane. You really want to destroy the ozone layer by incorrectly trashing your subpar sonatas? Hmm?

My permaculture teacher (http://supernatural-permaculture.com) said that if you can only do one thing to save the planet, make a compost heap. The metaphor also stands: if you want to contribute to the climate of the planet sliding towards consumerism, then wrap up your creative ‘mistakes’ in cling film and let them putrefy. Pretend that only experts can sing, make up stories, experiment with film. Stay mute while an elite take centre stage, and the streets fall silent.

Every master of every art had to start somewhere, with play, with experimenting, without letting their ‘failures’ sap their will to create. John Cleese once gave a lecture describing his process coming up with material for Monty Python: it involved starting the day with an hour or two of bouncing balls around, clowning, being silly. Then several more hours of more serious silliness. But you get the point.

The finished artistic products we consume should never put us off singing, writing, drawing, dancing, dreaming. Their creators have not only many years of practices behind them, but also most probably a whole team of other experts editing, composing, and encouraging them – not to mention providing financially backing.

Even though you might not want people to see them, your mistakes are not mistakes, your failures not failures. They might collectively stink, to your nose, but slap on those rubber gloves and that clothes peg and sort through the dregs patiently, heap them kindly, and watch the magic emerge. 

One of the comments from a participant in a creative writing workshop that made me happiest was “Thanks for making it OK to write rubbish.” Every participant in that workshop had produced raw, honest, beautiful work, many of them having little or no prior experience. It’s a liberating feeling to know you can chuck anything onto a page, and in a worst case scenario, it goes into the recycling. Back to the cycle of waste and productivity. It’s all good. 

*This isn’t really a plug for my creative writing road trip through Bosnia with Lazuli Ventures, honest. But here’s the link, now that you mention it: https://www.facebook.com/events/1304894962928452/?ti=icl 

It starts this Thursday so tune into the Lazuli Ventures FB page to check out what we’re to on the road. Happy scribbling!

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