Discovering the Productivity of Fallow

Mammoth Lakes

In search of fallow places

So, summers off?  Is that when you write?

That’s always the plan but by definition summer is becoming my least productive time.  For the last two years, I’ve averaged about a page per day while “working” (’cause you know Momma’s always working at home!) but in the summer my output equals zip divided by nada.

This summer it was going to be different.  In June, with all my extra classroom duties and reports, I’d somehow managed to squeak in a third edit of my 100,000 word book, all in hopes of starting a fresh, new project July 1.  And I did… sort of.  I read through notes and made a story plan; all very productive.  Then I clocked many hours this summer on wonderful reading trails: WW2 Biography, Endocrine & Stress, Nutrition and Health.  For my birthday, I was given a course on 19th Century literature and discovered Milosz, Dickinson, O’Connor, and Dostoevsky.  We vacationed in our home town, swam, gardened in our backyard, and enjoyed our newly adopted, rescued rabbits.

Several years back, after the birth of my third child, it became necessary for me to keep my home’s interior pristine and ultra-organized, as if the chaos of preschoolers and a new baby could somehow be better managed by OCD cleanliness! After I put the kids to bed, I’d complete a variety of home projects (painting, organizing, etc.).  [Proof, I think, that sleep-deprived parents suffer logic sinkholes.] At a workshop, I’d met up with two fellow writers.  To the question, “what are you working on now?” I’d answered truthfully: nothing.  The first author put on her disapproving face, as if I was letting myself down and should know better.  After all, writers are defined by one sole activity: they write and they actually have to clock time putting pen to paper.  Ouch.  But the second author, aged 80, gently touched my arm and reminded me, “you’re just filling up your well.”  These six words were therapy for me and when that bit of postpartum madness wore off, I set to work on another novel (in truth, not a very good one… still puts me to sleep!)

This summer I discovered that just as the practice of fallow is part of productive agriculture, seasons of apparent unproductivity are valuable and necessary. Even Oxford backs me up on this one.

fallow (adjective):

  • 1(of farmland) ploughed and harrowed but left for a period without being sown in order to restore its fertility or to avoid surplus production: incentives for farmers to let land lie fallow
  • (of a period of time) characterized by inaction; unproductive: long fallow periods when nothing seems to happen

FYI: I eventually kicked the postpartum insanity and discovered that a messy house, with the right priorities, can be a place of peace and happiness for children… and their parents.


About pjsarahcollins

teacher, author, reader
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One Response to Discovering the Productivity of Fallow

  1. Darlene says:

    Being raised on a farm, I know all about the importance of fallow. I’m very pleased to hear that you got over the neat freak period of your life! Have a wonderful fall. Hope to see you again soon.

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