Monday, 25 May 2009

Writing, the farming way - Anne Rooney

Medieval farmers knew a thing or two. They had to - their lives depended on it. They knew that it's easy to exhaust a patch of ground by trying to get the same things to grow in it, time after time - that the crops will become weedy and weak after a few years. And they knew that it takes more time to grown something than the time between planting the seed and reaping the harvest. So they rotated things (you must remember crop rotation from primary school history lessons): first rye or winter wheat, then beans or peas (putting nitrogen back into the soil), then leaving the land fallow - growing nothing particular, letting the soil have a rest.

Writing is not so very different from farming, I find. A third of the time creativity can flourish, producing a nice crop of useful words around a rich central idea. A third of the time, research and editing, admin and other writing, blogging, writing proposals, meeting publishers - preparing the ground. A third of the time, I need to let the soil of the imagination replenish itself. This is the time for noodling around. It looks to other (non-writing) people remarkably like being lazy. Writers know, though, that the hours spent sitting in the sun reading novels, dawdling through the papers, picking out random books in libraries and bookshops, watching worms in the garden, taking walks, baking cakes, growing beans.... are all necessary ways of preparing the ground for the next crop of ideas. Without the fallow times, the harvest will become poorer, year on year. So I'm not sitting on the balcony in the sun because I'm lazy, I'm doing it because I have to.

3 comments:

Joan Lennon said...

I know this to be true, but can I remember it when things stall? Can I, heck.

Penny said...

Agree with lots of this, Anne, but also wonder if (especially for myself) this approach slides along into being lazy too. At-the-desk deep writing time can be such hard work to get back into if you've been fallowing about.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Been dawdling in the New Forest only to come back and find this marvellous post. 'The hours spent sitting in the sun reading novels, dawdling through the papers, picking out random books in libraries and bookshops, watching worms in the garden, taking walks, baking cakes, growing beans...' you mean they all serve a purpose? So fecund follows fallow? Wonderful... it puts my life into perspective and now I realise why I'm always finding an excuse to bake biscotti! (And then eat them while I'm dawdling through the papers!)