Slow Rot Deep Rot: Finding the Juice in our Writing

~~o~~ Written during the Last Quarter of BRIGHT Moon ~~o~~

(making it Shake n Bake 79) 

A rainy day on the bay.  14C


Slow Rot.jpgI’m thinking today about… my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. About where the “good stuff” comes from. The stuff that works. That touches other people. And how I access that stuff. I’m thinking about how each of us is unique and how we sometimes… wish we weren’t. How we wish we could just follow a simple, clearly laid out plan and end up with creations we are proud of.

As most of you know, the Raggedy Man and I live on the shores of the Kebsquasheshing — which some folks call The River of Weeds. We have a lovely sand beach out front with a patch of wild roses, irises, lilies and lupins that I tend lovingly each year.

For a few years, I’ve made attempts to … add other perennials to this wild garden. I buy one or two each year and plant them down there. But I think the last two Spring melts have cured me of this. See – the front wild garden sits under water for a few weeks after the ice goes out. All the greenhouse lovelies…. drown.

But the wild beauties flourish — when I let them find their own way. I clear the patch out a bit each Spring – just to “give ‘em a chance.” I clear out debris and any strangly weeds that wrap round the roses. I clear out just enough to give the Wild Ones room to grow, then… I just let them BE. And, each year they return to bless us with their sprawly brawly lovliness.

Instead of waiting for the water to recede, this year, I decided to do a rake out while the water was still lifting things up for me. It worked great. I pulled two wheel barrows full of river weeds, branches and remnants of ice fishing fires out of the garden. I left some river weeds — to nourish — to enrich the sandy soil with their rotting goodness.

I still had some energy, and the sun was still shining and I was still … perhaps… avoiding work on the novel — so I moved to the back wild garden that sits in front of my writing burrow. This was originally a patch of lupins that I saved from the Raggedy Man’s hungry mower by encircling them with stones. I’ve also tried a few perennials back there, flowers and herbs. Some take. Many don’t make it through the winter. This can be a harsh place.

A couple of years ago I read that spreading the bark and chips and whatnot that comes with getting in wood for the winter could be good for “building” soil. So, I spread a bunch of it in behind the lupin patch – hoping to enrich the soil there and grow things in it. Things like… Food.

Last spring, I shifted the bark around and planted potatoes. They did OK but it was no huge harvest. It’s pretty shady back there.

This year, I’m thinking of planting spinach in the shady spot, but first I need to attend to the soil — clear it, turn it, see how it looks.


I raked a barrow full of bark out. There is rich dark soil there now, which is great. It probably came MOSTLY from soil and leaves and whatever I used to HILL those potatoes last year. Maybe SOME of the bark dissolved… but I pulled a lot out intact and there is still some more to clear.

The Raggedy Man knows this land much better than I do. When I told him what I was up to and how little of the bark had broken down into nutritional goodness, he just smiled and said, “It’s a slow rot here.” Wise man. Wise wise man.

Doesn’t keep me from taking that bark and dumping it back in the bush in a pile I will tend over the years…. I aim to be here awhile. And I’m stubborn.


All this has me thinking about… my work as a writer.

The best/strongest work I have done… reaches into my past.

I would not say that my first play, Saddles in the Rain, is totally “autobiographical” but it does hold touchstones moments from my past. Places I have been, things I have gone through.

My play, barefoot, is the closest thing to a raw retelling of my personal journey (or part of it anyhow). It is cut through with a tale from the bible and spiced wildly with ritual and poetic rhythm. Performing it, sharing it, became a sacred act. One day, I hope to share it again.

My play, OK: The Passage of Georgia O’Keeffe is… mostly Georgia’s words from her letters and interviews … mixed in with my own imagining of her yearnings and determination to, “Do the work, and get the work out there.” It was written to encourage others (and myself) to … stay true to our own vision, no matter what the response of … critics… or the world in general. I took strength from Georgia’s journey and found a way to share it with others… on the breath. Oh how I miss live Theatre and the power of intimate storytelling.

Writing and performing OK gave me the strength to go back in, one more time to the deep darkness and mad joy of my childhood to bring forth Mostly Happy. Again, I would not call this story a “memoir” — though Bean and I have been to many of the same places… Bean and Prissy and Goose and all the rest of the characters in the novel were gifts. Gifts that allowed me to tell a tale that my soul needed to tell.

I am forever grateful to them, to the people who supported me along the way as that story found it’s way into the world and to those who take the time to step into Bean’s world.

This new thing… Sanctuary… is so different… or seems so on the surface.

The characters have come, as they always come to me, but they are… more slippery than usual. See… this whole story world — the town the valley the happenings — are entirely… made up…

I yearn so much to be able to weave stories from the air. Fantasic adventures, heroic journeys, heartstopping heartbreaking tales to blow my readers’ hair back and make them laugh and weep and cheer.

In truth… Sanctuary is my first stab at that sort of… invention. It’s a different type of listening. I need to dig in a different place.

Most days, I LOVE this. I am learning so much. I think.

But sometimes, I wonder and I doubt and I fear that … This type of creation is beyond me… or will ring False. That I am only able to dance along the surface of these lives, this place I am discovering as I go. That I will fail to reach deep enough into them to find the True.

Which brings me back to this idea of the Deep Rot

I think that the truth about what I do BEST is… transformative. That sounds insanely egomaniacal, but what I mean is taking the past (dark and light), breaking it down, refining it and… growing new things in the dark fertile soil that results. Transforming these things… these happenings…these joys and sorrows…into… a new creation that I can share with others who search for… solace… and company along the road.

Soul Soil – that is my most fertile ground. But… It is a SLOW ROT around here.

This is what I am coming to understand.

It takes a long long while for the “stuff” of my stories to break down, churn around, and start working its way to the surface again.

And in the meantime? I sharpen my tools and I tend my patch.

I get my butt in the chair and I come to the page and I do the best I can to tell this current tale TRUE, and to make it compelling.

I love these characters and I continue to be fascinated by their stories as they unfold before me.

But some days… Well, some days I feel like I might just be… preparing myself for what comes NEXT. I am working and learning and stretching and I WILL finish this book and find what it is that these characters need to tell me. And then… I will move on.

I will take the lessons learned and… start again… on another story or a play or hell maybe even a poem.

And… as I write this, I begin to smile. Because I recognize this feeling.

There is always — in the midst of a long LONG long creation… a yearning for the NEXT thing. The shining possibilities you can see — way over there — as you try to lift your foot out of the MUD you are stuck in with the current project. Oh… when I get there the writing will flow and it will be brilliant and deep and juicy… oh yes.

And you wonder, stuck as you are, what this dumb story you are currently working on has to do with anything. It is just so much dreck. Surely you should shelve it and move on to greener pastures. They – the brilliant ones – don’t THEY say that the words should just flow shiny and true and pure and that writing should be a joy and you should just trance out and let it drip out of you. Isn’t THAT what they say?

And looking back at work you produced years ago that still stands “good” – do you not see all the flaws in the current monstrosity taking shape under your hands and want to go bury it in the woods where no one will ever find it?

And don’t you think – ah yes – THAT was good work…that is when I was on the right track…. this …. this… THING is not right…it is not true… that stuff was soooo much JUICIER.

Don’t you think that?

Or is it just me?

If you DO think that… Let me remind you that are forgetting… as we always forget… the murky middle of those creations. Forgetting how hard you worked to shine them up. How much dreck you raked out. How deep you had to dig to find the juice.

And, as I remind you… I remind myself.

I am forgetting.

I am fondly looking back and eagerly looking forward as I stand here … STILL in the middle of this thing after some years of working on it.

And the big doubt is so obvious from this vantage – it is sucking because… (cue the red faced lil critic demon who lives inside my head)

YOU ARE TRYING TO MAKE IT UP – and you don’t have a hotline to that sort of …. storyriver! You should drop this and go write a story about that time you pushed a kid out of a tree by accident and his arm broke and you had to run and get his mother and how she looked at you as though you were some kind of demon. Or that other time when that guy broke your heart and how you fell down on the ground everytime he called you for ten years until you could finally stand up and take a step towards someone else or… Well, CRIPES….There’s a million stories to tell. You don’t need to tell this dumb story. It doesn’t even make any sense! This is not from YOU. You are not working from your own soul soil.

And I listen to the demon rant and rave and all I can do is whisper… “But I am.”

This story is from me, too. Where the hell else would it be from?

As to… soul soil… well… even here in this “entirely made up world” with these “entirely made up characters” … the true yearning comes from deep down in … me.

Sanctuary, at it’s heart, is about finding a home. About finding our family, our tribe, our people – be they blood or be they… something else. It’s about… working out our own salvation. And these characters… everyone… come from the deeps of me. They are me. Just as much as Bean was.

And as for the time… well… I think back to being four years into Mostly Happy and being ready to chuck it all because it just… wasn’t a novel. It was a big rambling mess. Thousands of pages. Bibs and bobs and whatnots. Rants and raves and flights of fancy. It took me two more years and the help of a good reader and fiesty editor to find the True.

Damn that Slow Rot of mine.

I want a quicker turn around.

I get distracted, sometimes for months at a time, by the fact that other writers I know and respect seem able to produce so much MORE than me. I begin to think I am doing something WRONG. I grab onto ways to outline…I seek out new ways to plot a novel… I read up on structure… I become obsessed with grammar… I tie myself up with punctuation… I seek out any any any any help I can find … any ways of doing the one thing that I know is the only thing that will truly help my writing – HOW TO GET MY ASS IN THE CHAIR AND THE WORDS FLOWING. How to find the JUICE.

I run hither and yon and all the while…

The juice never went anywhere. It’s right here.

And how I access it remains the same.

I come to page. Every day. In some form – be it the Scrib, be it direct work on the book, be it a blog post or a letter to Lady K… I come to the page every day.

But there are other things I need to remember.

I also find the juice…

By listening.

And by trusting my own wacky process…

Which may mean that today’s real WORK on Sanctuary happens right here as I wrestle with this post…or on my walk… or in my meditation sit.

And yes – I have a “bit” to work on today. Today Hank is telling Izzy and I the story of his coming to the valley. I will get my butt into the chair and be here… listening to Hank… and trying to bring him through True.

But maybe these other things are just as important – the walking the sitting the eating of breakfast… The exploration of what the hell a semi-colon really DOES. And, perhaps most important – the TRUST that this story is coming through. That we will reach the end, together.

I will continue to seek out ways to improve my craft.

I will continue to plant those perennials…. and the ones that make it through the winter will add to the beauty and spice of the wild garden that is my work.

I will work patiently and diligently at building up this soul soil and trust that the creations that spring from it will nourish others (and my self).

And I will TRUST THE WILD.  I will tend the garden… just enough to let the Wild Ones flourish.

I’ve been contemplating this post for a few days.

Now I can see why I wrote it.

This is for all of us who are in the midst of a long work.

I say…

Take heart.

Keep going.

Beware the lure of the shiny new thing while you are stuck in the murky middle.

Get your butt in the chair and do the work that will allow your soul story to come into the light.

Try new things…new approaches…new recipes…explore new paths, sure. But trust your own path.


Trust the wild.

All will be well.

C’n I get a “So say we all!”

The view from the steps of the Writing Burrow
The view from the steps of the Writing Burrow

And now…. It’s back to the Writing Burrow for me.  Time to see what Hank has to say.

Happy scribbling.

go easy ~p

10 Comments on “Slow Rot Deep Rot: Finding the Juice in our Writing

  1. You do write true and this post is true. And your words have given me the needed kick in the butt to sit in my chair and write before I go to sleep tonight. Thanks.

    Love that first paragraph, btw … the pacing, the honesty, just pulled me straight through to the bottom. And I had no idea you were a BSG fan! So say we all!

    • Huzzah for the SITZFLEISCH!

      Which I do believe means: “The amount of endurance a person has for sitting still on his/her butt for the hours and hours and hours of time that it takes to get important work done.”

      Thanks for stopping by, Ralph.

      go easy ~p

  2. you got me pam, right in the heart and the gut! I read and re-read this. I have ordered your book and I will be searching for those plays. So say we all!!

    • Ah Hettienne – thanks so much for the comment. I am just emerging from the writing burrow…blinking in the light. The new tale is unfurling…at it’s own pace. And for that I am happy.

      Your words make me smile big big. Thanks so much for ordering Mostly Happy.

      As for the plays… Saddles was published in an anthology, but the others… I blush to admit that I never sent them anywhere for publication. I keep thinking that I should/must/maybe create ebook versions, or even audio versions that I could offer up.

      I think this might be an INTENTION to get moving on!

      bright blessings ~p

  3. You have a lot of personality in your writing. I like that. Whenever I blog mine usually ends up more analytic but I guess that’s just how my mind works. My style probably isn’t as developed either since I am really new to this.

    Also, I really liked your summary at the end. 🙂

    • Thanks Linncaki for stopping by and your lovely comment.
      I love your drawings…talk about personality! They are fabulous.

      Go easy ~p

  4. Pingback: Survival Tips for Storytellers (and other humans) | pambustin

  5. Pingback: push back against the dark… | pambustin

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Finding My Bearings Now

A post-dramatic approach to breast cancer

Starting Over

Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over

Ailish Sinclair

Stories and photos from Scotland

Cathy Standiford

Historical fiction, poetry, essays

Finding My Bearings Now

A post-dramatic approach to breast cancer

Starting Over

Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over

Ailish Sinclair

Stories and photos from Scotland

Cathy Standiford

Historical fiction, poetry, essays

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