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Fallow Time

(Fallow field courtesy of IITA Image Library)
The other day this quote resurfaced in my mind: "One reason that people have artist’s block is that they do not respect the law of dormancy in nature. Trees don’t produce fruit all year long, constantly. They have a point where they go dormant. And when you are in a dormant period creatively, if you can arrange your life to do the technical tasks that don’t take creativity, you are essentially preparing for the spring when it will all blossom again." (Marshall Vandruff)

Most creative people seem to experience these dormant periods, but they can be alarming-- they can feel like all the life and vitality has gone out of us, and there's always that fear that the shift is permanent. What if I never have any ideas again? What if the idea I thought was good is actually crap, permanently, forever? What if this means I have to quit being a writer ENTIRELY?!

So asserting that yes, there are dormant periods in the creative life, just as there are dormant periods in nature (and nature is in a constant cycle of growth, development, maturity, and loss; rinse and repeat), strikes me as a good thing. But I think there's a limitation to this comparison, which is that, say, an apple tree, for example, doesn't get to choose this period of dormancy-- it's inevitable and unavoidable and necessary, but the apple tree is just a passive participant in the law of dormancy. Conceiving of dormant periods in this way can be troubling for a writer who just wants to have a handle on their own brain. 

Yes, our own dormant periods are the same as the apple tree's-- inevitable, unavoidable, and necessary-- but I don't think we have to be that passive. That's why I've started calling these periods, not dormant periods, but fallow time. Time to define terms!

Fallow (adj.): plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation. 

Basically, farmers rotate crops because relentless growth takes its toll on soil, but leaving a field fallow for a period of time allows it to regain its fertility and grow healthy crops again. And we can choose to leave ourselves fallow for a period of time to do the same thing-- it's not so much that we're losing all our apples because Winter Is Coming (GoT reference totally intended), but that we are intentionally setting aside active creative behaviors in order to prepare for growing healthy crops again.

It's a subtle shift, but I think that conceiving of these periods as Fallow Time can help us to know what to do rather than helplessly flailing around waiting for the words to come back. And the more aware you are that you are in a fallow period, the more you can learn to anticipate when that period will be over, and how best to use it to your advantage. 

Fallow time can be a period of observation, learning, and absorption. You can spend more time in the world around you, going for walks or going to museums or just sitting in public places watching people. (Not as creepy as it sounds. I hope.) You can consume television or movies in an intentional way, learning structure, voice, character, dialogue, and so on. You can read books that you admire or are excited by to remember why you love creating stories, or to take note of what other people are doing well, or to get a sense of the canon into which your story would fit. You can scrub your house from top to bottom because organizing things gets your juices flowing. Whatever works for you to take things in and prepare your brain for creativity, that's what you can be doing during fallow time.

The point is, the difference between staring at a television show, helplessly waiting for your writer's block to end, and deciding to watch a television show because you know it will provide nutrients for your creative soil during fallow time, is big. Huge! Intentionality can make all the difference during a creative lull, and accepting the lull as a healthy and useful time can make it less frustrating and stressful and more productive. 

That said, I'm sure we could all use some ideas, so: what do you do during your fallow time?
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  1. Great post! Definitely bookmarking this!

  2. I try to write something different - a non-fiction article, poetry, a long email to catch up with a far away friend. And I plan some time in nature, whether it's simply walking around the neighborhood, going to a nature trail, or planning a trip.


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Item Reviewed: Fallow Time Rating: 5 Reviewed By: YA Highway