word craft


A heap of manure

Fossil fernYears and years ago, when I was in college—and already deter­mined to be a writer—I had a num­ber of vital men­tors. ( If you are a young writer and you have a men­tor who takes you seri­ous­ly, you have a very great gift.)  In any case, one of my men­tors was a singer by the name of Lee Hays, the bari­tone for the pop­u­lar singing group The Weavers. He was also a writer. A fam­i­ly friend who lived in the neigh­bor­hood, he took an inter­est in me and my writ­ing. One day I came back from col­lege and (unabashed­ly) hand­ed him a pile of my writ­ing and asked him to cri­tique it. He request­ed that I come back in a week. Which I did.

“Well, Lee,” I said, “what do you think?” 

“Well Avi,” he rum­bled in his won­der­ful, deep Arkansas accent, “It takes a heap of manure to make a flower grow.”

I have nev­er for­got­ten that remark, not just because it was won­der­ful, fun­ny, and apt, but because it also has nev­er ceased to be true. What the writer writes, for the most part, is bad. Poor. Inept.

Good writ­ing is all about rewrit­ing. The hard­est part of writ­ing for me, is not the act of cre­ation, per se, it is that I know what I am writ­ing is bad stuff. But you have to have the bad to get to the good. 

Stuck to my writ­ing com­put­er is a small fos­sil fern. I know it took mil­lions and mil­lions of years to cre­ate. That’s a lot of manure. But  …  it’s very beau­ti­ful now. It’s there because I am try­ing to write some­thing that will be good. In time … 

2 thoughts on “A heap of manure”

  1. Awe­some! Thanks for shar­ing your manure story–and the fos­sil, a love­ly image.
    I was blessed enough to have Lau­rie Halse Ander­son cri­tique a full man­u­script ear­li­er this year and am for­tu­nate to have a hand­ful of local writ­ing friends that I trade cri­tiquing with.
    Men­tors are the best for hon­esty and encouragement!


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