A few weeks ago, I noticed a flowering vine growing beside my front steps. Our family uses the side door almost exclusively, so the vine had reached a considerable size before I realized it was there. When I went to investigate, I recognized that it was some kind of squash. I showed it to my daughter and said, “I wonder what it is and how it got there.” And my teenage daughter said, “Mom, it’s a pumpkin.”

Suddenly, I remembered that we had placed several pumpkins on our front steps last Halloween. When they got mushy, I simply swept them into the bushes beside the front door, reasoning that they would decompose. And, boy, did they! I now have an ACTUAL PUMPKIN growing on my flowering vine. I check it every single day, and every day it makes me smile. 

Throwing Old Work On the Compost Pile

Recently, I had an idea for a short story that I couldn’t quite make work. I tried it a few ways, and then decided to let it go. I call this “throwing it into the compost pile” because writing—even failed writing—always contributes to the rich soil in which we grow our ideas. Sometimes, my students get frustrated when they can’t quite pull a scene together, or when they can’t find a buyer for a certain story. They feel as if their writing has been “wasted”.

But the fact is that no writing is ever wasted. It always has value, even when it isn’t our best. In the same way that we sometimes don’t have energy for a full workout, a walk is still good for our mental and physical health. Sometimes, a character or scenario willk get cut from one manuscript only to show up in a different form somewhere else. And sometimes, writing the wrong thing reveals a path toward writing the right thing. Either way, the writing makes us better writers. 

This is why writing regularly is so valuable. You never know when an idea will sprout in the rich soil of all of your previous writing efforts.