Lying Fallow

I haven’t been writing. It’s been about a month now. Not one single new word of fiction. It started slowly, with growing dissatisfaction with what I was writing. I was increasingly, bitingly, critical of everything I wrote. I was working on a new novel, the second in a series, and I couldn’t stand it. So I put it aside and started work on a short story I’d been thinking about for a while.

It was even worse. Not only did I hate what I was writing, I realized I was deeply unhappy.

I had no idea where that had come from. Unhappy? With writing? Writing has always been a joy—my happy place, my can’t-wait-to-find-out-what-happens-next place. I looked forward to coming home from work every day so I could play in the story. Looked forward to the weekends because they meant long, luxurious, uninterrupted hours of writing.

I finally realized that my subconscious was trying to tell me to take time off.

I’d taken time off, of course. Holidays. Busy times at work where I’d come home too pooped to write. Times where I thought: the heck with this, millions of people spend their lives not writing and they’re perfectly happy—I can do it, too.

It never lasted more than a week.

But this time, the malaise went deeper. I was exhausted—from life, work AND writing. So I gave myself permission to stop writing (since I couldn’t quit life or work), for however long I need to.

I gave myself a pass on the guilt, too. You know, the “I really should be writing” guilt whenever I found myself with a spare minute. Instead, I’m working on publishing my e-novels in trade paperback format. And I’m having fun again. I find it deeply satisfying to play with cover images and fonts—a totally different area of creativity that I hadn’t suspected I would like.

I think of it as lying fallow, like the farmer’s field that isn’t seeded and is just left to regenerate and build up its nutrients. I’m regenerating my creative energy. Or maybe it’s like the farmer who plants a completely different crop, a nitrogen-building crop that will help the soil regain its fertility.

Does this happen to you? How do you deal with it?

I know I will be getting back to writing, probably sooner rather than later. Already I feel the odd tingle of an idea tickling my subconscious. But until then, here’s what I’ve been working on:

 

Comments

Clare London said…
Smashing post Marcelle, and so apt for me at the moment! I hit a fallow period as well a couple of months ago, and in the end I surrendered and just STOPPED - with the writing, the missed deadlines, the guilt, the jealousy over everyone else's prolific-ness, the sitting at the keyboard with nothing happening :(. And you know what? (well, I expect you can guess) I feel MUCH better for it! I watched TV instead, did some mending, went to bed early, read more books ... I've had a good time, drawing back for a while.

And just last week, I chatted with an author friend and found myself sketching out some new ideas, feeling very relaxed and excited about writing again.

Take your time, I'd say, and wait until it's FUN again. It will show in the final product :)
Cathy Perkins said…
Have you been reading my mind again Marcelle?

Between the worse than usual craziness of the day job deadline, a hideous promo tour for a recent release, too many projects at our mountain place and the rest of like, I was put-a-fork-in-it DONE.

Exhaustion doesn't play nice with creativity.

I took a few days off (gasp - alone!) and took long walks on the beach unwinding. And my characters stirred and started talking to me again.

I probably need about a month away. Don't see that happening but at least I think it's on the upward swing.

Glad you're enjoying the creative aspects of cover design. They look great!
Elise Warner said…
Marcelle: Your designs are great. You are certainly multi-talented and as the commercial says we all need, "A Pause That Refreshes.
Rita said…
Hugs. I know how you feel. I went no mail on 95% of my loops. Stopped reading how some people sell a 1000 books a day, writs 5000 words a day, run 10 miles, spend a hour a day at the gym, take care of their 6 kids and are disappointed they got an A not a A+ on their grad school mid-term. I was losing me. I’m doing and writing what I want. I have some physical problems making it difficult. I’m me I’ll do what I can when I can. I’ll also cheer anyone else doing the same. All of you are brilliant authors. I admire each of you. Be happy and the rest will come.
cindie said…
Been there, done that, didn't just get the t-shirt, I moved in. I've been there for a few years now. Starting a business has sapped all of my writing energy. I have nothing left at the end of the day except my critical voice. But it never occurred to me to let go. Especially of the guilt. That is very wise!

I've been feeling for awhile that I am ready to get back to it but have had no idea how to find my way back. So I signed up for an OWN workshop. I hope that works. If it doesn't, I think I'll try letting the guilt go.

Your books are beautiful, by the way, so obviously that's a good use of your energy! Good luck with it all!
Robert Runté said…
Probably not a good time for NaNoWriMo then...

Yeah, fallow is good sometimes. When I was banging my head against writers' block 20 years ago, being painfully unproductive in spite of 10 -14 hour days at the typewriter, Candas Dorsey had me shadow her for a day...and her day seemed to consist mostly of not writing and a lot of hanging around with people. Then when she finally sat down to write, she produced more final copy in 45 minutes than I had in previous week. When I whined about the unfairness of that she looked at me and said, "what 45 minutes? I've been working all day. Where do you think this dialog came from? Weren't you listening to the people at the next table at lunch. Because I was." So it took a while for me to really get it, but the thing with writing is, you can't have output without input. You keep dipping into the well without replenishing it, and eventually it runs dry. I learned that 20 hours at the typewriter does not increase productivity10 times over what you can produce in 2 hours, it diminishes it because that 2 hours needs 10 hours of input to get anything useful out.
So sounds to me like you have been drawing on the well without taking time to refill it. I used the Candas example of hours/day, but in your case we're probably talking about longer timeframe -- years of output now requiring at least a couple of months of restorative input. I.e., go read some books you didn't write, go to some parties, go design a new typeface; edit some friend's manuscripts, take a course in history of south America, sign up for a workshop on drumming, whatever. Let the parts of Marcel that have been frustratingly suppressed while you squeezed every second into Marcel the writer out to play for awhile. Get excited about OTHER stuff for awhile so you have something to bring back to the table when you do again sit to write.
Just saying. Worked for a lot of my students who suffered from writers block and burnout, but of course your milage may vary.
jean harrington said…
Nobody's a machine, Marcelle,as the comment posts indicate. You struck a chord with all of us who once in a while feel too stressed to create. When you're ready, your subconscious will swing you into action. You'll know you're ready 'cause you won't be able to resist that urge.
jean harrington said…
Nobody's a machine, Marcelle,as the comment posts indicate. You struck a chord with all of us who once in a while feel too stressed to create. When you're ready, your subconscious will swing you into action. You'll know you're ready 'cause you won't be able to resist that urge.
Marcelle Dubé said…
Thanks, Clare. I am much more relaxed than I've been in a while! Glad it's the same for you.

Cathy, thank you for your kind worlds, but I should point out that the cover image for Backli's Ford was created by artists at World Tech Virtual. I'm glad you were able to take some time off.

Elise, thanks! But see above for the disclaimer. :-)

Marcelle Dubé said…
Thanks, Rita. Those darned overachievers exhaust me, too.

Cindie, I would encourage you to give up the business, but I know how valuable Lucky Bat is to writers. I'm glad you're finding your way back to writing. It would be a shame if, in helping other writers, we lost your voice.
EXCELLENT post, Marcelle. And, as I see in the comments, timely for so many of us - including me. I burned myself out this summer with some intense deadlines during other life things and should have taken some time off. Instead, I banged my head against the keyboard trying to get another project done. Took a couple weeks off and then found some excitement about another project but, yeah, I think I'm going to hit a wall again soon.

I LOVE the idea that time off should be guilt-free because we're simply letting our writers' brains lie fallow. Perfect image.
Toni Anderson said…
Marcelle, you do SO much you definitely need time to sit back and reflect. I'm pretty exhausted right now from various things. I do get re-energized by writing, and other times by allowing myself to just research a project. There are so many pressures on us it's hard to know which way to jump sometimes. Do whatever YOU have to do. Be you :) Be Fabulous :)
Marcelle Dubé said…
Robert, you are absolutely right. My well runneth dry. I can tell that this decision is good for me because I feel relaxed and happy, and am having fun again. All your advice is good, save for editing a friend's manuscript. I was actually first reader for a friend's manuscripts during the I-hate-writing period and learned that I was a terrible, super-critical reader, which I normally am not. So I took a step back from that, too.

Jean, thank you for the words of encouragement. I sure hope you're right!

Anne Marie, you sound like you're due for a break. I plan to follow Robert's advice and do something completely different -- but still work on covers!
Marcelle Dubé said…
Aw... Thanks, Toni. :-)
Ana Barrons said…
Yeah, what you said!
J Wachowski said…
THANKS for posting this one Marcelle.

I've totally been there, done that. 2 surgeries in 6 years (one was just last summer) and that balance of work to rest/input to output had to be adjusted.

Those covers are beautiful! Clearly you are still being creative with storytelling--visual storytelling in this case.

Changing & growing & letting new things affect our work is what it's all about!
Marcelle Dubé said…
Thanks Ana and Julie. I think I tapped into a common experience!
TheaH said…
I haven't been writing much for a couple of weeks. The old critical voice is just too loud, my critique group seems to be taking over my head. I knew I was going to take an online workshop and it would require some deadlines and good focus to get the value out of it, so I gave myself permission to not write, except for that. I've been beta reading for colleagues, watching TV, learning to play a video game with my boyfriend. And, hey, the results of the workshop are good. I can write and do it pretty well. So that gives me permission to concentrate on the structure issues I think I have. So, December, yeah, December, watch out! Thanks for sharing. I felt really guilty and, not bad, but not good. Glad I am not the only one struggling with those kinds of feelings.
Marcelle Dubé said…
Good for you, Thea. Sounds like you knew what you had to do and you did it. As for guilt, has there ever been a greater waste of energy? Abolish it, I say!
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