A wise friend once told me that if I want to harvest the tree, I have to water the roots. It was her way of teaching me self-care in the creative process. And it’s true. I’ve used that metaphor, as well as the ‘put your own oxygen mask on before helping other passengers’ one as well to help me set appropriate boundaries and limits and to stay healthy.
There is another metaphor that I’ve been thinking about lately and that comes from farming and the concept of letting a field lie fallow.
Lately, I feel like my internal resources have been drained. Part of that is from a round of intense writing and editing that I have recently finished. Part from circumstances in my personal life. When you are an artist, the two get inexorably tangled.
Workwise, getting the manuscript for DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE completed, into the hands of beta readers, returned and revised so I could hand it off to my editor was an enormous task that had to be done on a tight deadline. It took all my attention and focus for several months and when I finally had the file emailed off, I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I’m a writer. I want to be writing, dug deep in the landscape of a story, but I’m also not a machine that can continually crank out words without respite. So I find myself in this strange place and time of waiting.
It’s not that I don’t have ideas and projects; it’s that when I sit down to work, my mind is unable to focus. I still spend hours at the computer, but not to write. And as much as I know that this time between projects is vital time, I am still unnerved by it.
I think this is because of the way we are taught to value work and when you are a writer, work = words created. If I’m not crafting words, then I’m not doing the work I’m supposed to be doing.
Except that’s not how creativity happens.
The metaphor of a field is very apt here: Ideas are seeds you plant in the fertile ground of your subconscious. For a long time, it doesn’t look like anything is happening, but when the soil is warm and moist enough and there’s the right amount of sunlight, leaves will emerge from that seed and unfurl into the world. Part of the work of the artist is to create those ideal conditions for the idea to germinate. That’s another place where self-care comes in to play.
And after you’ve harvested those fields, the nutrients need to be replenished before you start another season.
That is the fallow time—the time between projects, when I need to fill my soul with nourishment; poetry, novels, music, nature. All the moments when I’m living and being are what will allow me to tap my creativity for the next harvest.
I know this. This is not a new cycle. I’m just resistant to listen to its wisdom, so I spend too much time at the computer, neither creating nor replenishing. This is not a healthy path for me. This isn’t in the spirit of the fallow field.
Tomorrow, I will make a deliberate choice to step away from distractions and engage in mindfulness instead. Even if all I do is take a walk with the dogs and listen to music, it will be a good start. Spring is just starting to show itself, here in New England. Perhaps I will see the tightly curled leaves of fiddlehead ferns starting to poke themselves up from the wet ground by the river. No one forced the ferns to sprout. They were there, beneath the snow and ice all winter long.
I have to trust that my words are there, below the surface, waiting.