Lessons from a Broody Hen

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Buffy the broody hen.

This is Buffy. We didn’t name her after a vampire slayer, but instead, she’s named for her breed— a Buff Orpington. Buffy is broody. That means she insists on sitting on her nest for weeks at a time, never leaving for a minute, unless we shove her, rather unceremoniously, off the assortment of eggs beneath her. She’s trying to hatch some eggs, and she is absolutely set on achieving that goal.

I’ve learned a few things from Buffy. The first is that when you have a job to do, you need to have stubborn determination and patience. I’ve been trying to follow Buffy’s lead. I’ve got to sit here on my nest—actually at my desk—and do what I’m supposed to do, with unwavering focus. Buffy does not wander off and do other things that might be more fun. For Buffy, that might be scratching around in the yard looking for tender morsels, for me, that might be shopping for shoes at Zappos.com or sitting on the back deck soaking up the sun.

I’m sure Buffy suffers by not eating or drinking while brooding. For me, though, I find that I spend too much time eating and drinking (not alcohol, I swear) to keep myself amused when the job of writing gets tedious—also known as editing. Sitting at my desk with a single task is hard work. It’s easy to be lured away by social media, by on-line Scrabble, by just about anything. Doing a job well requires patience and termination. Buffy has it. I’m getting better at it.

Broody, of course, means more than sitting on eggs for endless days. Buffy does not look happy; she looks grumpy, if that is possible for a chicken. We’ve all seen brooding artists and authors, sitting pensively, no matter where they are, thinking deeply and determinedly about their creative work. It’s not really my style, but I do get grumpy from all that sitting staring at words on the screen. And I’m not good at being isolated. But Buffy has the right idea: sit there and do your job, and do it until its done. And suffer, if you must.

Buffy sits on those eggs, but sadly, they will never hatch. You see, we don’t have a rooster, so those non-fertile eggs will just sit there beneath her forever, never hatching into chicks. She holds on too long hoping that if she just sticks to it, her eggs will hatch. And I’ve fallen victim to that mentality as well. I’ve sat on my manuscript (figuratively, of course I’m not Buffy in that way) not wanting anyone to see it. I’ve waited and waited until it was perfect before I’d give it to my review team. I found that by waiting to show it to people is not a good plan.  At some point I must realize that its time to let this manuscript go, to let it out into the world so that it can live and breath. The only way that I can hatch a novel is to let other people read it.

I’m learning that the only way to move forward is to get off the nest and let my baby fly. For Buffy, she’ll eventually get off her nest, tired and hungry, having realized, finally, that her eggs are duds. She’ll go back to scratching around in the pen. And me? I’ll pick up my pen and start writing. Again.

4 thoughts on “Lessons from a Broody Hen

  1. Jamie McDougall says:

    Ahh, JP, the artist’s plight is singular devotion to one’s art!! Except when it isn’t. You must not overwork your piece, it just muddies it up!!!

    • True — When working on something too long, there is a point of diminishing returns. Or like you say, the longer you work, the worst it gets. Knowing when to stop is important.

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