Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Writing Life: Three Tips for (and in praise of) the Fallow Times by Carol Coven Grannick

The wintering of Illinois farm fields remind me of my current writing life. After twenty-two months of intense work—creating, revising, organizing poetry into collections (wow, that's hard!), putting final touches on submission-worthy children's manuscripts and an adult 'verse narrative' story coming out in July 2022, I am in a period that feels fallow. And it's good.

I am not 'growing' anything new, but I am drawing nourishment from the mulch of a pleasantly unfocused, relaxed, dreamy kind of state filled with less intense activity and new. 

I can't speak for all writers, but I've come to cherish this time. And I've come to view it as a quieter complement to more intense writing hours and months. It doesn't feel like I'm not writing or temporarily not a writer. Instead, it feels like a nourishing, significant, and necessary part of my writing life in between bigger projects.

I know my brain likes it, and within it, I experience an ebb and flow that guides me. Some things don't change during these times, and some do.


I've created these 'tips' for myself, and they seem to serve to nourish me, like mulch in the corn fields:

1. Keep your basic morning 'scaffolding', whatever ritual eases you into the rest of the day. Create, revise, or keep a structure that works for you. Mine? Coffee and reading an email newsletter integrating history and politics, bike or walk, shower, then breakfast of soft-boiled eggs and whole grain crackers (yum). 

2. As much as possible, continue to block out creative time or times that would otherwise be writing times. Use those times to do other writing life-related things. My post-day-job-retirement years give me time I never had before. Researching, submitting, end-of-year tax prep, website tweaking, webinars, and so much more.

3. Keep your brain open to 'surprise' and to 'new', trusting that every idea or activity or feeling is nourishment (a/k/a, mulch) for whatever is next, and quite possibly the key to things never previously imagined.


Advice I give is advice I've used myself, so I'll tell you some of the assorted and (mostly) new things I did during the fallow  times:

  • Applied for and was accepted as a Cybils 2022 Round 1 Panelist—read almost 40 books and believe I may have taken a major step in healing some mild PTSD that took the form of having trouble losing myself in books. For a partial introvert who has had trouble reaching out in the past, this was an accomplishment. Not totally new, but still not a total habit.
  • Watched some old and well-written sitcoms. I'm going to say pure distraction and entertainment, here, and not claim I was studying dialogue!
  • Began driving out to a farm 1-1/2 hours from home where I could learn to feed and water castoff thoroughbreds. Thus the open fields, the deep breaths, the incredible joy of being in the countryside. And a reconnection to my cowgirl dreams of childhood. Ideas bubbled up for—maybe—

    a new project...?
  • Returned a little bit to piano practice, but without my teacher. Another idea for maybe a new project?
  • Bought a jigsaw puzzle. Haven't used it yet. ANOTHER idea...?
  • Following a long-held urge to paint (I can't draw) since working in an early childhood center, I signed up for an inexpensive watercolor class. I needed brushes and colors, as opposed to actually drawing something. It was interesting how I knew I needed to hold a brush, instead of watercolor crayon-type paints. I definitely needed something other than pens, pencils, and a computer keyboard.
  • Scribbled on scraps at home, at stoplights, parked on a country road what ended up being a bundle of poems from here, there, and everywhere.

There's one more tip I'll share, but it's not from me. It's one I've loved for years, from the talented, prolific, and wise Norman Lear. In a wonderful interview with NPR some years ago, he validated the treasure of the in-between times. His comments were in response to a conversation about his ongoing prolific body of work, seemingly going from one project directly to the next. But he didn't see it quite that way:

“I think what I’m saying – and it’s something I’ve come to over a number of years – is I do enjoy the moment,” he continues. “There are two little words that couldn’t be more true – ‘over’ and ‘next.’

“When something is over, you gotta get used to knowing that it is over. Nothing is going to bring it back. It is just a memory. What about ‘next’?

If there’s a hammock in the middle, then that’s what they mean about living in the moment."

That hammock—or for the purpose of this post, those fallow times—can be safe, comforting places, gifting you the time you need 'between'. A place to rock. Open space filled with the  'mulch' of different and new directions and activities. Things that have to be done, and things that nourish, open our brains, and ready us for whatever will become 'next' in the more intense, deep, vulnerable, risk-taking work we strive to do. 

                                             I wonder what my next project will be?


  1. Carol, this is such an amazing post and so affirming for creators to cherish the in-between-times. A fallow field will reap and grow in time! TY.

  2. I am typically driven. I suppose some might say oblivious to all else when I am “on” a mission. Thank you for your post. It made me stop for a moment to think about the creativity that can come from fallow fields.

  3. Such an incredible post! So inspiring and affirming. Thank you!

  4. Thank you so much for this post! It's full of so much wisdom and insight. I'll be sharing it!

  5. Great advice. I like the reminder to keep that "creative block" scheduled into the day and substitute other creative things. Thanks for sharing your wisdom to fellow fallowers.

  6. Thanks, Sue! I actually have that in my mind for everything, and it feels like: "This is my time for _________, which I always have the option to not be able to do, or deciding I do not want to do today."

  7. Thank you, Carol, for sharing the excellent advice you give yourself.

    I, too, find inspiration all around me on the Illinois Prairie as I read, write, and create.

    Suzy Leopold

  8. Thanks, Suzy! Yep. LOVE those open spaces!

  9. I love this post, Carol! Inspiration, nourishment, recharging, refilling our creative vessel . . . thank you!

  10. You're very welcome, Eileen! Thanks for letting me know!

  11. Love it! Thanks for sharing how you are embracing the fallow times. Good!

  12. Carol. your wisdom and encouragement, both in active and passive times always are instinctive and nourishing. Thanks, Cathy

  13. Carol, thank you for your encouragement and the share of your fallow times. I need to consider the importance of those In-between-times in my life.

  14. Great stuff to mull over. Thank you for these encouraging words!