I’m a composter. I have a pile that I toss stuff onto, stir around and oxygenate, keep moist and yet sheltered, and after a while, that “stuff” turns into something that nourishes growing things.
I can hear my husband now saying, “Yes, that’s about what the dining room table looks like.” He calls it my “strata of ephemera” for the piles of paper that seem to breed there. But I’m not talking about that, or even about the compost heap under the trees on our property. I’m talking about my brain.
When I was in high school the guidance counselor gave every student a test to help determine what occupation, profession or career might best suit him or her. The test was a single question: “Would you find this interesting?” followed by dozens of statements like “bandaging a dog’s leg” or “drawing plans for a project” or “writing an article about a public event”. Each question had one of those one-to-five scales to grade it by – you know, “Dead boring” to “totally awesome, dude!”
I took the little test, and then I had the little talk with the guidance counselor. She looked me in the eye, with a very worried expression on her face, and said, “Your test results concern me, Elizabeth. You’re interested in too many things.”
Is that even possible? I wondered. I didn’t say it out loud. I don’t remember how the interview ended. What strikes me is that a broad spectrum of interests in a student was cause for concern.
On reflection, I think the fault was with the test. It should have asked, “Would you find this interesting if you had to do it every day? Five days a week? And maybe the guy in the next cubicle has B.O. and halitosis?” That might have narrowed my interests a bit.
All the same, the idea that you can be interested in too many things is still foreign to me. Everything I read, everything I hear, everything I study, gets dropped into the compost heap that is my brain, there to molder gently and perhaps combine with something else. Eventually I’ll dig it up and apply it to something, or maybe it’ll sprout on its own. Given time, I’m sure that most of the things I’m interested in will turn up somehow in my writing.
I’d encourage every writer, or would-be writer, to cultivate a compost heap in her mind. Learn something new every day, even if it’s only a bit of trivia or some Believe-It-Or-Not oddity. Read widely. Talk to people. Ask questions. Being a writer is a definite advantage here – you can say “I’m working on a story and I was wondering – what does an actuary do?”. People will tell a writer the most amazing things, if she asks.
Pile it up, dig it in, give it time.