Sometimes Fields Need To Be Fallow

image courtesy of Darryl Smith via


I messed up.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been “writing” (in my head) a post on being fallow. Because that’s how I’ve been feeling: like a field with tapped-out soil that’s being rested in order to be more productive later.

You see, I did what I said I’d do a few months ago and sought help for my depression. It has been a beautiful, beautiful thing. I’m sleeping (mostly). I’m not having random anxiety attacks. I’m present for my family. I haven’t visited even once. I have enough energy to make my kids do their chores.

But no writing. My drive and discipline seemed to vanish with my desperation.

I wasn’t stuck, just … still. Which made sense. I’d twisted myself into such a tight, unyielding corkscrew of disappointment and frustration over my writing that there wasn’t going to be a SHAZZAM when all was made okay in an instant. It would take time. And I’d have to decide — over and over — not to follow the comfy brain paths I’d worn in during my depressed period. I’d have to choose to put good nutrients back in my tired soil.

So I started reading again: romance, history, mystery, speculative fiction, science, memoir. While I painted and redid my kids’ rooms, I listened to audiobooks of two Harry Potter and three Rick Riordan novels.

I let myself be fallow, and didn’t pressure myself to write much more than Facebook posts and Goodreads reviews (including for The Good News of Revelation, a longer and more reflective review of which will be forthcoming in this space).

And I took some risks. The Japanese student who lived with us for 9 days was a good risk. Joining the adult “beginner” soccer league (that was not so beginner) was less so. Then there was signing up for the Festival of Faith and Writing.

Which was where I messed up.

Does anyone out there remember phones with cords? Do you remember winding the cord around itself until the only remedy was to unplug the knotted cord from the body of the phone and hold it so the receiver dangled? And when you did that, it’d slowly untwist at first, but then it’d get faster and faster? (If this is not in your memory banks, visualize a figure skater doing a tight spin that speeds up until he or she is just a blur.) Well, if all my earlier soil restoration strategies were the slow untangling of the cord of my frustration (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?), then the Festival was a giant pile of soil conditioner followed by a glorious rain that spun my phone receiver around like crazy. So that I no longer feel fallow.

I’d been so wanting to write a non-triumphalist narrative, to write about being fallow while in the midst of it. But, being fallow, I waited too long. And seeds were sown and fertilized this past weekend. Good seeds. Good fertilizer.

Because it’s how God rolls, this even fits with my theme for the year — softheartedness. The phrase that the New Living Translation renders as “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,” appears as “Break up your fallow ground” in the New Revised Standard Version (Jeremiah 4:3).

That isn’t to say that I’ve already got a healthy crop growing. It’s not like I’ve forsaken online Boggle, or severely limited my time on Facebook, or even reduced the number of blogs I read (if anything, after the Festival, I have more). But I’ve written this, and actually have ideas and plans for more. I’m moving forward with submitting It Is You and revising its sequel again.

Resistance is already dialing up to meet my challenge. After months of waking up at 5:30 a.m., last night I decided to take inspiration from Anne Lamott and do some writing before the craziness of the day started. Resistance got me up at least 8 times over the course of the night so I’d be too tired and already too harried to write. Did it work? No. But I’ve got to give props to a good attempt. Now I have to keep at it until I wear new habit grooves in my brain.

Although I’m sorry I didn’t get you my in-the-midst post, I’m grateful for my four fallow months and for the Festival of Faith and Writing. I needed them both.

How is your field? Fallow? Fertilized? Highly productive?

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6 thoughts on “Sometimes Fields Need To Be Fallow

  1. Thanks for this. Two possibly ironic things: one, I just had a similar revelation about being fallow, which is hard for type-A me to accept–that sometimes the most “productive” thing I do is simply nothing. And two: I was thinking just today about wanting to start writing on my blog again after something like 2 years of absence, and I was thinking of you as a model of someone who pursues the writing life faithfully, even with its challenges. So I am grateful to you and your wisdom here one more time. And also really wishing we could meet every week at Schulers for tea. Blessings, friend.

    1. Oh, I so wish we could meet weekly at Schulers for tea! It took a couple of months for me to figure out that “fallow” was what I was and that it could be part of a healthy growth cycle. I will share with you one of the best things Anne Lamott said — multiple times: “If you can’t find an hour to write, not even Jesus can help you.” This as part of her ramblings about the writing life, said in the softest tone. It was galvanizing. Especially when combined with these sentences that were always together: “You are so loved. You are so chosen. You are pre-approved.” Still: I’d love it if you’d pick up your blog again 🙂 Blessings right back atcha.

  2. I too struggle with depression, I am so glad it is better for you. And it was SO good to connect with you at the festival. The story sessions community has taught me about cycles, like in nature, or the moon. That my creativity is probably like that also. Rest is really hard for me. But for me it is an act of believing that I am chosen and loved even if I am not doing anything.

    1. It was great to connect with you, too — you and the people I met at the Festival were as big a part of what made it so great as anything a presenter said. For me, rest isn’t as big an issue as intentional rest. I can fritter time with the best of them, but choosing things that supply actually restorative rest is tougher. But I did manage a 2nd morning in a row of my 6 a.m. habit 🙂

    1. Yes, I probably couldn’t get away with a long, hard, fallow winter followed by a late and slow spring in fiction — too on the nose for what is happening with me 😉 **I just watched that interview — so great! I will definitely check out his book. Thanks for the recommendation!

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