Lying Fallow

By Elizabeth Engstrom

Creativity is an interesting thing.

I’ve long maintained that language is so pitifully inadequate to describe the human experience that we are forced to engage creativity so that we can communicate with one another on a significant level. There is a compulsion for us—more for some, less for others—to do that thing which humans do best: socialize. And in that socialization, we must share our experience of this human condition, to put together words and phrases that we at times desperately need to be as accurate as possible in order to describe what Facebook calls “It’s complicated”.

This is no easy task.

We see cheating husbands in the movies say to their wives all the time: “It just happened.” They don’t take the time to articulate the complex sets of emotional events that led up to their extramarital romp between the sheets, and perhaps that’s best, as the wife would likely understand it all too well. But we viewers saw it, understood it, and empathized with it. And truly, we empathized with his taking the easier way out instead of explaining.

But this relentless search for the perfect word, the singing phrase, the golden drop of eloquent honey that puts everything into perspective and describes exactly the indescribable, is exhausting work. This is why people talk about bleeding onto their keyboards. It’s not only emotionally depleting, but we use up our language, rehashing old phrases instead of freshly searching for new ways to connect.

Farmers let their fields lie fallow for a season. This lets the earth rest, instead of constantly churning, depleting, adding chemicals and hoping for the best. If there is no period of rest, the crops become stunted. The chemicals may make a plant, but the plants have no nutritional value.

And so it is with writing. We are told over and over again to hit deadlines and word counts and page counts. This book and then the next book and then the next and the next. Don’t stop, write every day. Writers write. Just do it. Get on with it. What’s your page count today?

Does this help?

A long time ago I read an essay about writing (Lawrence Block? Stephen King?) that said writing is like being adrift in the North Sea. You keep hacking pieces off your boat to burn to keep warm, but sooner or later…

Sooner or later, writers need to replenish. They need to experience anew. They need to let the creativity lie fallow, let the words rest. Let the creative compost work its magic. Let the stories marinate. Let the pressure ease.

Writers write. Of course, writers write. But sometimes we need to give ourselves a break to refresh, renew, rekindle. But even that needs a deadline, lest it slides into endless “creative procrastination.”

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