Writing fields lie fallow – Where will this lead?

When I sent my manuscript off to find an agent, I looked forward to taking a breather from the intense writing regimen I’d maintained for the last several years. In the past, each time I finished a book project, I knew what I’d write next. This time I didn’t.

Who knew taking a break could be so hard?
Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

Memoir, fiction, children’s books, essays. All have popped into my mind. None of them ignite passion. I know myself well enough; if passion isn’t there, it won’t be long before I lose interest. Perhaps I’m not meant to write another book? The idea alternately exhilarates and frightens me.

Knowing I’m happier with a project, I signed up for two art courses so I’d have a creative outlet during this break. By stretching my mind in new ways, I anticipated I’d fill the time and achieve the sense of fulfillment I experience through writing.

Yet, the sense of calm I sought didn’t come. My reminders to myself to be patient; my self-assurances that my purpose would present itself; my intent to relax and enjoy this unscheduled time worked only intermittently.

When my husband asked me recently how it felt to not write after spending the past many years doing mostly that, I blurted out the truth: “I feel lost. Completely lost.”

Lying Fallow – Time to Rejuvenate

When I connected this past week with Shirley Showalter, a wise woman who also grew up on a farm, she likened my current state to ‘lying fallow.” Lying fallow is the agricultural practice of letting the ground rest for a season or more by not planting it to a new crop.

Lying fallow is a metaphor I understand. It’s one that makes sense. By allowing time for rest and space for energy to regenerate, many new things are possible – in the land and in myself. Thinking about this time in a new way helped.

I recognize this time of lying fallow for what it is and what it isn’t. This time IS an opportunity to take a break, to try new things, to spend more time with my son and granddaughters, without the pressure of a writing deadline. It ISN’T a guaranteed next book idea; it isn’t productivity in the same way I’ve been accustomed to; it isn’t even a defined period.

Returning to writing

What seems clear after three months is that I miss writing. By stepping away from writing entirely, I let go of a tool that’s helped me through tough times in the past. I may not have a big project to work on, but even small writing projects can be useful. Writing this blog post helped clarify where I am, reassuring me with a sense of the familiar.

Whether it’s journaling or returning to more regular blogging or through essays, I’m going to capitalize on the comfort zone of writing often enough to let the writing help me think through this time of lying fallow.

For this season of lying fallow to work, I have to be patient. To curb my expectations. To rest. So here I am, doing my best to let this time be what it is, not to force it, to accept whatever happens.

Have you experienced a season of lying fallow? Or by other names, a sabbatical, a break, a breather? How has it been productive for you? I’d like to hear your experience as well as any advice you’d offer me.

Comments

  1. Marlys Recker says:

    I, too, know the feeling. I am on sabbatical from volunteer work because we are doing some home remodeling. Feeling a loss like you are and realizing how much time I actually was giving, but most of all I miss the people and the routine I had. Change is always unsettling and I’m embracing it. Keep telling myself it is so worth it! I may actually like having more time for me once everything is completed!

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Our routines add structure to our lives, don’t they? Take away the routine – whether we liked the routine or not – and we flounder. Having time for yourself would be delightful, Marlys. Good luck with the adjustment.

  2. Carol, I think it’s great that you signed up for some art courses. For me, lying fallow is the stop just before getting completely creatively derailed. It’s something that (for myself) I need to avoid from now on. I think in the future I will write *something*– be it poetry, flash fiction, essays, articles.. something, even if I don’t happen to have a novel to occupy me.

    I understand what you’re saying about passion–how if you don’t have it you won’t stay engaged with a big project–so let me ask you a few questions as food for thought:

    What scares you most? What are you afraid to write? What would you write if there was no judgement and no chance of failure? Maybe your next project is there…

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      You make an interesting point, Karen. Of the ‘use it or lose it’ variety. I found writing the blog post to be harder than it should have been. Poetry came to mind last night. Though I seldom venture into that venue, I’m inclined to try.

      Our questions are thought provoking. I’ve heard these in other contexts, but hadn’t considered them in when it comes to my writing. I’ll give it some thought. Certainly worth journaling about.

  3. Hi Carol, I was just thinking I haven’t seen much from you lately–and here you are!
    For the past several years, I’ve had book project after book project. The last time I finished a book, I told people it was strange that I didn’t have a project planned–then two showed up. Now I just want them to be done so I can concentrate on writing stuff I really want to write.

    I think you have to simply let yourself lay fallow, perhaps experiment a bit, as you’re doing, and something will come. I think Karen above poses some good questions.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      The idea that I can do whatever I want is so freeing – and so unsettling. It means I have to know what that is. I agree Karen’s questions are worth spending some time with. It is interesting to me that I feel as though I need to be productive even when I’m ‘lying fallow.’ To carry the analogy through, the land is being productive even when it’s lying fallow since it’s storing up energy for future crops.

      You’ve inspired me with your poetry and I know one of my near-term writing projects includes a poem. Or an attempt at one, since I don’t go down the poetic road very often.

  4. Nan Johnson says:

    Your blog posts always speak to me, Carol. I like the metaphor of lying fallow; there are great benefits to resting the mind the way farmers rest the soil. At some point, my “inner farmer” has to decide that it’s time to plant again, and I am struggling, too, to find just the right project that will sustain my interest. Rather than avoiding the keyboard, however, your idea of using the familiar tool of writing as a way to work through the issue is good advice and I plan to do just that. Your post was timely! Thank you.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Glad my experience spoke to you, Nan. As you search about for the next writing project, you’ll have a project to occupy you through the next months as you launch your novel, “The Open Road.” Good luck with both writing and marketing.

  5. I have been lying fallow as well, Carol. After spending time worrying about what’s next, I’ve let the anxiety go, and am really enjoying this time to simplify my life and start doing the many things I put to rest when I started writing my book. I know there are ideas growing inside of me but will wait to see what they are when they choose to come forth!

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      I’m glad you’ve found gratification in getting your arms around the many aspects of life that often slip to the background when we write, Joan. Perhaps as we move into spring, which is no doubt further along in Virginia than in Iowa, the energy of the new season will trigger the creative energy inside us.

  6. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder says:

    I experienced this same feeling when I stopped tutoring and teaching. We moved to another province and retired. I wanted to begin some writing projects, but there was so much to do to get settled in a new place, find a new church, and make friendships, as well as caring for grandchildren.Nine years have passed. I’m writing a blog now. That was a first step. I can’t let another nine years go by!

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      As we know, ‘to everything there is a season.’ Blogging is great exercise for bigger writing projects, Elfrieda, and it filled a purpose as you attended to the other demands in your life. I get the feeling that the time is finally right for you to tackle writing your story. I’m cheering for you.

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