Why is a Compost Heap Good for Your Garden and Your Book?

It’s amazing how two seemingly different things can have a lot in common. Take writing a novel and gardening, for example. One involves sitting in front of a computer in a clean environment and moving just your fingers for a while. The other is a messy, whole body activity that requires you to perform a myriad of tasks from digging to pushing a lawnmower.
Yet I’m discovering that, in order to get the best results out of either your novel or your garden, you need to perform the same basic activity for both:

Create and maintain a fertile compost heap.

Now, I consider myself a novice at both noveling and gardening, and I want (and need) to get better at both. So in this post, I’m going to mix my metaphors liberally, and try and work out just how to make and maintain a compost heap for both my Dream Novel and my garden.

What is compost?

If you’re at all familiar with gardens, you likely well know what compost is. My knowledge is a little spotty, though, so I enlisted Wikipedia’s help in defining it:

Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment.

So, it’s your kitchen scraps, your grass clippings, all that healthy, safe-to-recycle stuff (with some limits, I understand – onions and lemons never get composted) that you blend together with some soil to produce a substance you can put on your garden beds to help the plants, flowers and veges grow.

Why do I need one for the garden?

Vickie and I have a big vegetable bed at the back of our garden. We’ve been growing veges in it for a good couple of years, and the most recent season has yielded heaps and heaps of tomatoes, as well as some lettuce, celery and kale.

Therefore we need to make sure that the bed is kept as fertile as possible, which is where a good compost comes in, helping to keep the soil rich in nutrients.

We also want somewhere where we can put our kitchen scraps instead of straight in the bin!
(Technically, we already have a compost bin, but it’s vertical and not on a bed of soil, which any worms in the bin need in order to escape the heat that the composting process generates. At the moment, we’re looking at moving the compost out of the bin and into a heap in a cleared section in the middle of the vege bed.)

What does compost have to do with writing a novel?

I’ve blogged about using a couple of systems, the Snowflake Method and the Hollywood Formula, to cook up a plot for a novel. Neither of them has worked out petty well – I keep grinding to a halt, thinking, “This isn’t creating something I want to write.”

Then a few months ago, I was re-reading Randy Ingermanson’s page about the Snowflake Method and saw something I hadn’t noticed before:

If you’re like most people, you spend a long time thinking about your novel before you ever start writing. You may do some research. You daydream about how the story’s going to work. You brainstorm. You start hearing the voices of different characters. You think about what the book’s about — the Deep Theme. This is an essential part of every book which I call “composting”. It’s an informal process and every writer does it differently. I’m going to assume that you know how to compost your story ideas and that you have already got a novel well-composted in your mind and that you’re ready to sit down and start writing that novel.

But just how does a compost heap help with writing a novel?

Well, much like a compost heap serves as a place where you can store, process and maintain the nutrients so that your vegetables have fertile soil to grow in, a novel (or even a novel series) needs some nutrients for the growing process.

Previously, my organising efforts for the various spontaneous ideas and brainstorming sessions relating to my stories have been pretty messy. So I want to put it all in one organised place where I can easily store it, maintain it, and draw from it when I sit down to draft and then revise.

Not only that, but while I could have hunted down Randy’s Creative Writing for Dummies book at the library again and found out whether that had any info on what he meant. But I’ve been looking to other people’s systems for entertainment for years and rarely had any luck (yeah, there’s another post about that on the brew), so instead, I want to try and reason it out myself.

Next Questions:

How do I make a compost heap for my garden and novel?

Are you curious?

Where’s your garden’s compost bin or heap? What veges do you grow?

What’s your process for handling all the brainstormy, lightbulb-momenty bits that you do when writing?


Clean Up Australia’s page on composting

The Snowflake Method