This is a guest post by writer LJ Cohen. She is a Boston area novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, geek, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist specializing in chronic pain management, LJ now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels.
A little over a year ago, I released the fifth and final volume of a series I had been working on since 2012. Because I had made the commitment to publish five books in five years, it meant that I had been writing or editing continuously on the Halcyone Space series for over six years. In the end, the overarching story spun out to half a million words from start to finish.
While I know there are writers for whom writing at this pace is routine, my process is more of the slow and steady variety. I’m not here to extol the virtues of one way of creating over another—there are an untold number of books and articles guaranteed to make you insecure enough without me piling on. If I have learned anything in my own experience, it is that creativity is a journey rather than a destination. And if there were only a single way to write a novel, there would only be one how-to guide.
I wish that meant I didn’t pay attention to all the advice out there.
It’s hard not to internalize things like “write every day” or “writers write” or “finish everything you start”. And it’s not that these are wrong, per se, it’s just that like all advice, the application depends on more factors that can be crammed into a pithy saying.
In the year since A STAR IN THE VOID was published, I haven’t written much at all. A short story here and there, a few blog posts, the first few chapters of several novel ideas that haven’t really come together.
For the first few months, I was anxious. Despite having written 14 novels since 2004, I was starting to doubt my identity as a writer. The anxiety got worse as I abandoned one story idea after another. By the turn of the year, I had to admit to myself that I wouldn’t have a new novel out in 2019. That’s when the panic really ramped up. 2019 would be my first year without a release since 2012. Would my readers wait for me? What if I couldn’t write another book?
And worst of all: If I wasn’t writing, was I still a writer?
Two years ago, my husband and I bought a home on a quiet piece of land in Central Massachusetts that we call StarField Farm. While much of the land is wooded, it has nearly an acre of arable land that we are slowly turning into garden. Our five year plan is to create our own smallholding with fruit trees, vegetables, and some livestock.
What has this got to do with writing?
Each of our fields remains a field whether it is planted with crops, just harvested, or tilled and under a dark tarp to kill the weeds. Farmers have known for generations that letting a field lay fallow is essential in managing the land properly. We simply cannot grow the same crops year on year in the same fields without seriously depleting the soil. And we certainly can’t expect the same yield without carefully managing the earth in which the crop grows.
So it is for creativity. From the time I began writing my first novel in 2004, I haven’t managed my creative soil well. My time at StarField Farm is teaching me a different kind of time: one not measured by wordcount or publishing calendars or books in my backlist.
A farmer doesn’t cease to be a farmer when the harvest is long done and the fields are bare. A farmer is still a farmer, deep in the coldest winter day, poring over seed catalogues and dreaming of what to grow come spring.
What does this look like for a writer? For this writer, it means spending time on other creative pursuits. I am a ceramics artist and also enjoy knitting and crocheting. Both clay and fiber work are a kind of moving meditation. Spending time on the farm is also a way to get me out of my own head. And of course, reading for pleasure is a way to fill the well.
I am a writer when I am writing.
I am a writer when I am publishing.
I am a writer when I let the words lay fallow.
LJ is active in SFWA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), and Broad Universe and blogs about publishing, general geekery, and other ephemera at http://www.ljcbluemuse.