Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fallow hours - a process post

Once upon a time, about 8-1/2 years ago, I left the legal profession after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which makes it impossible for me to work full-time as a lawyer - the long hours and high pressure were causing flares, and I simply couldn't do it anymore.

And then, once upon a time, nearly eight years ago, after a few months of moping and watching HGTV and stuff, I decided to pursue writing. For children. I wrote a (bad) poem about a hippo. I wrote a picture book manuscript that was over 1000 words long. As you do. I started doing quite a lot of reading and research, including a lot of time over on the blue board. I found a critique group. I attended conferences and got encouraging feedback from editors. I wrote additional poems and picture books and got some good early results from my poetry, including a poem accepted by Highlights Magazine. Almost six years ago, I started this-here blog.

But it wasn't until about five years ago that I began to get serious. Four years ago, I started the Jane project - tons of research, gobs of writing. Along the way I wrote three different manuscripts involving garden gnomes - a picture book and two chapter books - two other picture books, and a large number of poems.

Along the way, I started writing regularly. I usually make pretty steady writing progress. But every so often, I find myself completely unproductive - in what I've come to think of as fallow hours - those hours (usually extending over a period of days, and sometimes into a two- to three-week period) where I lost a large percentage of my focus and/or drive.

There was a time when I worried about them. Perhaps I'd lost my mojo. Or my imagination. Or my interest in writing. Invariably, I'd start to worry about what was going on, and what it meant, and whether I'd ever write again. And that actually made the situation worse, because it made stressed me out (sometimes even triggering RA flares - why hello, autoimmune disorder!)

These days, I don't worry so much. I recognize these fallow hours as what they are: a temporary break. Turns out that just as one can only drive so far on a tankful of gas before running out, creative folks can only go so long being productive before they need a break. And as with vehicles, your mileage may vary.

In fact, it can vary project to project, depending on the rigors of the particular project. Or the fallow hours can be triggered by life events that intrude, be they personal or not. Oddly, sometimes personal upset triggers periods of creativity for me (I like to bury myself in my work, you see, which is why I got so damn much done the year that my husband was going through chemo for lymphoma); often, though, it takes a toll.

It's not surprising that between the Tucson shootings at the start of last week and the news of Lisa Madigan's fight with stage IV pancreatic cancer, I've been having difficulty keeping my focus. They are the sorts of things that make me consider my own mortality and the choices that I've made (and will make). Taking a step back to consider how best to seize the day and smell the roses has resulted in a number of fallow hours. And I'm good with that.

I've been reading. And watching a few movies. And working on a small side project for which I wrote two poems, as it turns out, so I suppose my output isn't completely shot.

I've learned that when I accept that fallow hours occur and that they, too, will come to an end when they're ready, I stay much calmer - and the fallow period tends to shorten. For instance, today, my plan was to do nothing. Nothing at all. This is my third blog post since that decision was made. And I wrote half a poem, too, because I am apparently so very perverse that telling myself I'm not allowed to write made me desperate to do so.

Still . . . I've given myself permission to goof off and/or play around until Sunday. Because just like fields in which crops are planted, we all need those fallow hours to regroup, rethink, regenerate, reimagine, and to find the joy again.

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