Harvesting our Creative Potential by Gene Lempp

ROW80 has been an incredible learning experience for most of us, even more so for me. As a sponsor one of the things that I noticed in the last round of 2011 was how we each grow to the heights of achievement followed by a downtime of creative famine. Euphoric despair. Which I feel is an apt way to describe the life of many writers I’ve met in the past year. This thought brought to mind the farming cycle (yes, I’m odd like that). Crops are chosen. Seeds planted. Nurtured. Grown and harvested. Followed by a fallow time allowing the nutrients of the soil to rebuild and refresh so that the following season another crop will find bounty.

As writers (and I believe this applies to all creative minds) we pass through a similar cycle. Our story idea is chosen. Just a whisper, a first vision. A mystery or space odyssey. A dragon on a mountaintop or an autistic werewolf that collects stamps. An idea of the crop we wish to plant.

The idea, once envisioned, transforms and a story comes to mind. The mystery will involve a serial killer that stalks nurses on nights of the full moon. The space odyssey is launched in advance of a global killer asteroid and those on board face an uncertain future as the last of humanity. The dragon claims a princess, the favored of a powerful king due to her talent with song and harp. The werewolf falls in love with the owner of a stamp shop but her aggressive landlord is trying to force her into marriage and blocking the shy changelings advances. Seeds, also known as log lines, themes, character arcs and plot points, planted in fertile ground and watered by our imaginations.

I’d suggest having at least a basic knowledge of all of your stories seeds, just as a gardener knows all of the requirements of the seeds they plant. The depth, the amount of water and light needed, and the spacing needed between seeds to be sure they grow to their full potential. Additionally, as every row of crops is in a straight line, for a writer, this basic knowledge keeps our story on a straight path.

We nurture these seeds by exploring the story (pantsers) or plotting out potential outcomes (plotters) or something in between. We choose the opposition and follow their line of trouble. We craft a hero that can overcome and survive and in the final crucial moment bring a satisfying win (or die with honor trying). We watch the story grow and take shape from sprout to a full-shafted stalk of corn with fine plump ears and silken tassels.

Then comes the harvest. The labor of bringing it all together and while it is a labor that most writers enjoy it is exhausting work for our creative muscles. The once rich ground left churned and punctured by the corn stalks of the story its nutrients depleted. Yet on our table rests a beautiful plate stacked with corn that we will enjoy for weeks to come, a completed manuscript, be it novel or story, full of all the rich nutrients of our imaginative minds and ready for others to feast upon.

It is at this point when many writers, myself included, stumble. We feel the urge to immediately replant and think that delay is an evil to be avoided. However, this is not always the case. Allowing our imaginations to recharge is essential to the process of creation. We have to breath and live and experience the world around us. This is when we explore options for future crops (brainstorming ideas), learn about new seeds (craft books), study new tricks for planting (reading fiction) and then consider the list we have of potential projects and see what speaks to us.

This time allows us to dabble in other things, perhaps a mystery short for someone that normally writes chick lit (as a ROW friend did during NaNoWriMo last round). Or maybe, a light fantasy adventure instead of dark urban paranormal. Allowing our minds time to recharge in an area is a sure way to find creative energy when we return to plant in our favorite fields.

I would encourage all of you, fellow ROWers to remember that forward progress is true success as a writer, not that you turn out x number of pages every day until the end of time.

Peaceful Writings.

~*~

Gene Lempp

17 comments

    1. The key is to keep forward momentum during the famines. Take time to read. Play with ideas. Scribble out brief scenes off the top of your head. All these things recharge the field and will lead to a more productive cycle.

  1. Nice post, Gene. I completely agree. I wrote a post similar to this last year on my blog about the seasons of writing and personal writing cycles. If we respect the seasons, allowing for fallow times and fat times, I think it makes us enjoy our writing more. I always enjoy your thoughtful posts.

    1. Okay – novice in the room🙂 Lovely these educated insights which thoroughly apply to me. I find so many things influence my writing. There are wonderful times when the characters chatter away and the flow is smooth, and then the silence swoops in as if from nowhere to steal my creativity. I need to recognise the pulse of change and to appreciate it more. Great post.🙂

      1. Hi Shah. We are all learning all the time, no novices here🙂 Perhaps your characters just think there is a different field they want to play in. When things aren’t moving smoothly try tossing them into a situation that will challenge them, even if you don’t use it, just to get things rolling. The only “bad time” is when we derail our writing because we aren’t “feeling it”.

    2. Thanks, Suzanne. I don’t think this is a new concept and it is one that we all need to see on occasion to keep from drifting to despair when the fallow season comes. One thing to remember, fallow times are still Growth Times, this is when we grow ourselves in preparation for the next project. Craft books, reading fiction, playing with ideas are all a part of that.

  2. A post that connects to this this former farmgirl’s heart, Gene. It’s an excellent analogy, especially when one also considers how deceptively easy it seems to keep producing with artificial aids such as fertilizers and GMOs but that in the end, we start coming back to… let the ground repair itself with the aid of the natural flora and fauna that had nourished it for so long. Short cuts work, but they have a price.

    1. Hi Eden. Actually, I don’t think short cuts work. Sure they can allow material to be created but if it is horrid and no one reads it then did it really work? Glad you enjoyed the post🙂

  3. Great comparison. There is often an impatience with writers in wanting it all to come together and have constant forward momentum. For myself, I’m learning the value of letting a story simmer before it’s written and then after it’s written – first to get the creative juices flowing, and second to let the ideas rest and me to rejuvenate. Letting another project take over for a while is a good idea. Thanks, Gene!

    1. Writing is a long haul proposition. Many of the longer term writers I’ve run into have one project in planning, one in writing and one in editing. This method takes exactly what you mention into account, allowing each project to simmer and grow while staying productive. After all, why plant just corn when you could add in soybeans and wheat for a year round harvest?

  4. Gene, I love the way you have used the harvest metaphor for the creativity process -it certainly makes sense of a rather complex moment in our creativity (well, that’s how it feels at times).🙂

    I have noticed the time away from my WIP (and when all despair lets loose on the project) allows for me to strengthen my plot/character/scene so hence afterwards I am glad I went through it -despite hating that moment of uncertainty..

      1. Hi Amy. Absolutely, we have to allow time for things to grow, including ourselves. There is no “microwave” method to writing, no Jiffy Pop. Although sitting down with a bit of popcorn and watching a movie (especially in the genre you write in) is a great way to recharge and spawn ideas for current and future projects.

    1. Hi Yikici. Your comment made me think of something. The farmer doesn’t spend all his time in a field. He plants and moves to another. He comes back to weed or maintain the crop in cycles. He then harvests at the end. I think (and know from experience) that spending too much time beating our minds senseless on a single project can actually kill the work. Imagine watering your plants 24/7 – they would drown. Just a thought.

  5. LOVE the seed analogy. And you are so right about forward progress. Sometimes story planning and outlining results in more progress than words on a page. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Hi Tia. Nothing against pantsers. I started as one. I still pants some shorter works (at least on the zero draft) and overall I’d consider myself a plotser hybrid. That said, knowing a few things (at least) at the start is a good idea.

      Who is the bad guy? What does he/she want? What “thing” of the hero is put at risk because of the bad guys actions/plan? What event draws him in? What are two twists (at least) that will drive up tension (midpoint and end of Act 2)? What is the throughline (hero succeeds, hero fails, something else)?

      If you know those few things, the seeds, it will keep the “row” of the story straight and increase the odds of a good harvest.

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