Fallow Time

balanceresized_200Our culture tends toward the frenetic. Gotta go-go-go, gotta do-do-do. Everything has to be about something, for something, in aid of something. Even sitting and meditating is a thing you do, not an opportunity to just be.

Writers can tie themselves into serious knots. Gotta write-write-write, gotta promo-promo-promo, gotta rack up those words. And horse people–if you’re not training, showing, demo-ing, taking lessons, riding, driving, racing, going-going-going, then what are you there for, exactly?

Now there’s the question.

If there’s anything about horses that’s a sure thing, it’s that sooner or later, you’ll end up sidelined. Horse gets sick or injured, rider gets sick or injured, bottom falls out of the breeding/racing/training market. The sheer number of tools and tricks and drugs and nostrums points to how early and often horses just don’t get, or stay, with the program.

The best-laid plans can go poof; the best intentions can end up getting nowhere. And there’s the horse in the stall with the bandage or the regular vet bill, or in the pasture with or without the prognosis of “not getting back to work any time soon,” and then what? Start over? Buy a new one? What if that’s not possible, for money or logistics or plain old refusal to walk away from an old and loyal friend?

For that matter–is that even the right way to look at it?

In agriculture there’s an old concept: the idea that every field, in order to stay fertile, needs to take a break at intervals. To stand empty for a season or a year or however long. To lie fallow.

Fallow time can be seen as barren time, when nothing good or useful happens. The field (book, horse) is just sitting there doing nothing.

But it’s not, really. It’s resting. Regenerating. Getting its mojo back.

Fallow time is important. It’s not the same as crippling block in a writer (and don’t believe for a minute those who deny the existence of such a thing–happy creatures, they’ve never experienced it so they insist there’s no such concept, it’s all in your head, you’re just lazy), or dinking or wheel-spinning or blowing off the process in a horse or rider. It’s a process of its own.

It can be short: a few minutes to recover during a difficult exercise, or a day off after a show or race or lesson. Or it can be an extended break, whether voluntary or otherwise.

Same applies to the writer. After a tough or intense scene or a long and complicated chapter or a full-on blitz to the finish, the tension has to let up. There has to be a pause, whether short or long. (And pacing in a story or novel works the same way. In between the highs, a breathing space can make a huge difference to the way the story moves.) A time to rest; regroup. Regenerate the synapses.

A muscle can’t go forever at full stretch or flex. Neither can a whole body, or a brain. It has to let go; to relax. Then it can get back to work again.

Fallow time is important. It’s not lazy, it’s not work avoidance. It’s necessary for the continued health of the horse or the book or the mind or the body.

And if it’s not your idea to take the break–if the horse or the book or your own health has imposed it on you–then that’s OK. Freaking out over it just makes things worse. The best thing to do is let it happen. Roll with it. Relax and breathe. Trust that the downtime will end, and you’ll be better for it.

What, you can’t do that? You have to go-go-go? Deadlines will eat you?

Maybe a short break is just what you need to get your resources together for the next or final push. An afternoon or a day off. An hour to do something not-book or not-training. Take in a movie. Go on a trail ride. Sit in the pasture and just let the wind blow.

Sometimes the paradox is true. Not-doing is the thing you most need to do.

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About Judith Tarr

Judith Tarr is a writer, a freelance editor and writing mentor, and a lifelong horse person. She lives near Tucson, Arizona, where she raises and trains Lipizzan horses. Her new book, Forgotten Suns, is out now from Book View Cafe. Yes, there are horses in it.
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13 Responses to Fallow Time

  1. Phyllis Irene Radford says:

    My beloved spouse knows the signs and regularly surgically removes me from the computer and takes me _elsewhere_ for all or part of a day. Otherwise I end up throwing things and crying because I got a comma wrong or misspell a word. Then I accomplish nothing.

    Better to take the time to rest and recharge than spin wheels and grow more and more anxious.

  2. Jenny says:

    Fallow

    What a perfect word
    a re-framing
    opening that first joint
    revealing a freeing

    Nice, girlfriend.

  3. Kara says:

    As I’m falling into that post-dissertation “why am I just wasting time on the internet?” funk, this is nice to hear. I deserve a little breathing room to let the synapses recoil from academic overload before I throw myself back into the world of Arthur. I appreciate the permission. 🙂

    • Judith Tarr says:

      Believe me, you need and deserve a break (though you don’t need anyone’s permission). A dissertation is one of the big soul-rippers of the modern age. Takes time to get your brain cells de-fried and remember how to breathe again.

      When I passed my orals, John Boswell (no, not -that- one; -that- one) told me, “Now go out and watch bad movies and read popcorn books and just relax.” He was right. (Though I -wrote- the popcorn books instead.)

  4. Melis says:

    Allowing oneself to rest, recoup, I think that can be harder than the push, especially if the resting is outwardly imposed, the feeling of must be; doing! accomplishing! producing! can be a amazing mishmash of paralyzing and frustrating.

    It brings to mind my favorite quote, “patience… yeah yeah, how long will that take?”

  5. deshipley says:

    I’m right now in the midst of some self-imposed fallow time, and it is soooo hard for me. Allowing myself a break from maximum productivity goes completely against my grain. But I’m realizing again and again that if I don’t decide to take a rest, my overworked brain will decide for me by shutting down.

    So yeah, this article was timely. Thank you for reinforcing what I’m struggling to learn.

  6. Rick K says:

    Fallow time can also fake characters, and your subconscious, into doing some boring work while you recharge. Or finish up some disagreeable mundane task, so it isn’t hanging over your psyche like an invisible Sword of Damocles when you’re writing, riding, plotting, etc.

    The less I pester my characters, the more useful information they let slip during their idle gossip with each other. They have given me their names, histories, call signs, and general societal history, and I didn’t have to twist a single arm. Better to get disconnected bits of background while I’m “on fallowship” without grief than to crack the whip on your characters, and your own mind, when you decide to accelerate to ramming speeds.

  7. Zena says:

    Although, when the fallow time starts to outpace the productive time by larger and larger spans, it gets harder to to trust that the downtime will, in fact, end.

    I guess either way, there’s not much to be done but ride it out.

    • damigiana says:

      Indeed. Especially when it’s illness-related, and you have access (thanks, internet, I guess?) to the relapse statistics.