Piles of Dirt

- by Rebecca York

I tweeted about what I was doing yesterday–moving piles of dirt around the yard. A tweet came winging back to me–Any writer who is moving piles of dirt around the yard is procrastinating. Go write.

In a way, I guess that’s true. But I can’t write all the time. I’ve got to refill the well.

With dirt? Well, yes. I mean, this wasn’t a ditchdigger project. I’m having a new screened porch built (just in time for winter), and the construction company left a big pile of dirt in the middle of the yard. Of course they’re obligated to move the stuff when they finish. But, when they do, it’s not going to end up where I want it. For them it’s just a mess to be dealt with.

For me, it’s a precious resource. I can use it to level the little “patio” under the bird feeder. Fill in at the retaining wall where some of the soil has leaked out. Level various stepping stones on the paths I’ve built. And fill in the hole where a bush was dug up a few weeks ago. That spot’s going to be a new flower garden, but I can’t plant any of the flowers until spring.

All of those are garden beautification projects. I’m not just moving dirt. I’m planning new landscaping motifs Too bad the raw materials are so heavy.

On the other hand, I’m also getting in some good exercise as I carry those buckets of dirt around and pry up those stepping stones–being careful, of course, not to throw my back out.

And while I’m dealing with the heavy stuff, my mind is churning–plotting out the next scene for the book I’m working on.

I prudently left my mud-caked shoes on the front porch, then came in and took a shower before going back to the computer. Eighteen pages later, I more than made up for the couple of hours in the dirt pile.

I hope I haven’t made it seem like I only work when I’m “in the mood.” I write two to four books a year. But when I absolutely don’t want to be sitting at the computer, I’ve learned that it’s better not to force productivity. The best thing I can do is get up and work on something else creative. Maybe it’s going to be trying out a new combination of recipe ingredients. Maybe it will be mixing paint colors to repair the broken edge of the pantry floor. Or even moving piles of dirt around the garden. But I do need those breaks. They’re part of what keeps the story ideas rattling around in my head. And part of what makes my life more than just the books I write.


  1. As your later 18 pages showed, you had at least a thought or two about your writing while you were moving the dirt. Sometimes we discount any activity that isn’t simply flinging words on to the page. If a day of dirt-hauling helped you move forward, so be it!

  2. Jean Lamb calls that “Vacuuming the Cat.”

  3. I find “go write” comments silly as well as annoying. I mean… who do people THINK buys my groceries, does my laundry, prepares my meals, cleans my bathroom, vaccuums my home, takes my aged car in for repairs, calls the phone company to find out why my internet connection stopped working, packs and unpacks for me, dusts for me (well, okay, even -I- rarely do my dusting), replaces my shoes when I discover they’ve got holes in the bottom, get the car washed, waters and repots the plants, fixes the coffee maker, gets the hot water heater replaced, searches for obscurely-sized lithium batteries to go into various clocks and appliances here, waits in line at the post office, waits in line at the library, waits in line at the bank, gets prescriptions filled, replaces the venetian blinds after they break and fall on my head, figures out a better place to keep the books after towering stacks fall on my head, mends my jacks and skirts, replaces underwear that I wouldn’t want to be caught dead in, and finds research books about things like Lithuanian secret societies and the logistics of horseback archery?

    Yes, I would LOVE to have a servant to do all these things for me so I could just “go write” all the time. But, alas, until writing pays about ten times better, I am stuck managing my life myself. Like normal people.

    who had two new books released in 2010, despite doing a lot of daily things besides writing