Monday, December 13, 2010

Purposeful Fallow Time

Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the ploughshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring. —Henri Frederic Amiel

I reached my National Novel Writing Month word count on Friday, November 26 and, on the same day, jumped into an editing project with a pressing deadline. I planned to use last Friday morning to finish the editing project, work on my Web site redesign, and write several of these tips.

It was not to be. I could not focus. I could not find a topic. I could not get interested in writing anything! Instead of lamenting my laziness, I decided I was simply tired. My brain needed rest. Instead of writing, I grabbed a book and a blanket and nestled into the couch.

Writers, we cannot produce work 24/7. We need to have both fallow and productive times in our writing lives. We understand what it means to produce work. As writers, we work hard to stay productive and get published. But what does it mean to engage in fallow time?

Farmers regularly let fields lie fallow. The old saying goes, “Farm the best. Conserve the rest.” Allowing a field to be fallow for a season or two prevents soil erosion, provides food for wild animals, and prepares the land for future plantings. Yet, when demand for food is high, farmers can be tempted to forgo the fallow field and farm all of their land.

As writers, we need fallow time, too. Sometimes when we think we are experiencing writer’s block, we are really tired. We need rest. We need time to step back from the relentless pressure of producing finished work. Time away from constant deadlines prevents us from producing work that is boring and predictable. It provides time to explore and nurture new ideas. The time away can also prepare us to launch a new project.

For many writers, fallow time just happens. We finish a big project or a series of small projects, and we stop writing for a time. Or, we hit the holiday season, and we do not have time to write. People and life demand our attention, and we give it. Soon, months have passed, and we have not written. But we also have not rested.

Our writing would be improved by introducing purposeful fallow time into our lives. We can practice fallow time for a day each week or a week each quarter. During our fallow time, we purposefully engage in activities that help us to recover from the relentless pressure of daily deadlines. We read, rest, and gather inspiration. We might walk or write in a journal. We may go to the movies in the middle of the day. We might even bake bread. At the end of the time away from work, we feel rejuvenated and ready to write again.

This month, I will be exploring some of the ways writers can use this purposeful fallow time. Tune in next week for more ideas about how fallow time can bring you inspiration!

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