Winter, Compost, and Writing

Writing practice, March 6, 2013

“Today it smelled like recess.

Like the first hope of spring, when the layers of snow peeled back to reveal autumn's debris, the ruined plastic rakes with splintered handles, the tipped buckets half-full of leaves, the inevitable beloved stuffed animal, lost and flattened and mouldering. Like walking to school in sneakers instead if soured boots, mittens left in our pockets, giddy from the lack of weight on our small bodies.

Today it smelled like recess. Like green grass poking through the webbing of last year's leaves and clippings, like tulips peeking from muddy earth, like hackey sack and too-early soccer games and mud-spattered jeans. It smelled like frosty air blowing down from snow covered mountains, the promise that winter was not over, not yet.

But for a day, we ran along the blacktop and smelled the air and kicked at snowmen melted like the wicked witch, stick arms splayed up to the heavens. And if we squinted our eyes, we could almost imagine green things on the trees, flowers to pick, kickball games, and the hope of the long days of summer far in the distance.

Today, it smelled like that. Like hope and renewal, like green, fresh things pushing up from the old compost of yesteryear, like the buried things uncovered…”


All writing falls eventually into a winter; a silent time of reflection and deep white drifts of nothingness covering our minds. It is a time to relax, to contemplate, to compost.

In the phenomenal book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg describes writing practice as composting our lives, churning memory and senses and thoughts over and over until they become the fertil soil of imagination. And from there, we find the richness in ourselves we seek. And then, we write with that richness of being.

I'm a believer in composting, in following the seasons of ourselves and our writing.

We do not write outside the existence of our lives. We write in the rhythm of living; seeking to dive in and transform the desperate handful of moments we have in the world into something outside of us, something that touches others in the small ways, comforting ways that make the world a richer place to live in.

We need to write—we need to write from deep within, to process and turn through the decayed selves we once were, the memories and smells and emotions and deeper truths to be found within, we need to spring, ever hopeful and green from the remnants of ourselves.

And to use what we have learned, to be who we are, and tell the stories that naturally grow from that fertile ground of our own hearts, and to own those stories without judgement, without reservation or fear or censorship.

Because our stories are the natural consequence of our lives, of our obsessions and pasts and hair color and names and hobbies and sorrows and scars and joys. They are part of us, raw and real and alive. It is important to accept our selves, to churn through our minds in search for what matters, what is ready to be said.

When the silence of winter comes over us, it is time to listen. It is time to churn through our words and memory, to fall deep into truth with ourselves.

And then write what springs green and new from our hearts, as soon as the frost is gone.

Photo credit: irowboat


7 thoughts on “Winter, Compost, and Writing

  1. I love Natalie’s book and you’ve put her point across well. I read her ‘chapter’ on composting at a time when my own writing had taken a big step forward and she helped me understand why. There were a load of stories that I had tried to work on too early that had left me feeling like a failure. I abandoned them, but years later they were all coming back, wonderfully fermented into the pieces they should be. Thanks for this.

  2. This is a phenomenal post. I love this time of year where Winter is still holding on but the sun is a little warmer, the days are getting longer, and the promise of countless morning walks with the dog and lazy evenings with friends on a patio somewhere awaits.

    You’ve captured the essence of the seasons writers go through regarding the writing process. The hibernation, fermentation and composting of our thoughts, ideas and memories are as important as the mad scribblings and the need to write are. Sometimes it’s hard to remember this, so thank you for the reminder.

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