It’s harvest time again. Tomatoes and squash, apples and peppers overflow from the bins at the local farmer’s market. The scent of dried grass and decaying leaves float through the air. Cool mornings are welcome—and so are the finished pages of my latest manuscript that I can almost put behind me. I’m finishing a novel that has challenged me tremendously this last year, not just as a writer stretching and growing in new directions, but as a writer in an ever-shifting industry. Needless to say, it’s been an emotional year and my journey with this book has been a rocky one. But now, as my manuscript ripens, I’m glad I stayed the course. I’m proud, even. Each novel teaches us something about ourselves as people, as writers. What I’ve learned is to…
THINK LIKE A FARMER
Trust Your Intuition: Farmer’s combine their years of learning with an innate connection to their land, their animals. Writers work the same way, with time and practice. Is there something nagging you in the back of your brain about your WIP? Some dangling plot thread, some weak character? Perhaps it’s the tone. Is it humorous enough? Does it evoke a sense of doom? Does this premise feel like “the one”, or the one for now? Perhaps your gut is telling you to take a chance in a new direction. Learn to trust your instincts and intuition. There’s a reason a siren is going off somewhere in your subconscious. It’s trying to tell you something that could turn your manuscript—or your writing career—inside out.
Watch for Patterns: Farmers track weather and seasonal patterns, the yield each year, and the varying needs of their livestock and crops so they may grow strong and healthy, flourish. Keep a writing almanac to track your own habits. Which part of your writing process gives you the most trouble? When do you feel good about your manuscript? Low? How does your word count vary from week to week? Tracking your routines is an interesting lesson in who you are as a writer. Better yet, it may serve as a tool to help you shake off the gloom and self-doubt when you need it most. When I reach forty thousand words in a first draft and again around seventy, I decide I’m a talentless hack and should give up altogether—until I checked my writing journal to see how I faired with the last book. Sure enough, it happened at the same spot in a previous manuscript, same feelings. A reassurance I can push through and bring my current ms to fruition.
Pruning, Watering, Coaxing to life: Sometimes the crop doesn’t want to cooperate, but the farmer understands nurturing is the key to bringing them to life. Nurture your manuscript; work in layers, delve deeper, pay attention to when it needs trimming. But don’t just nurture your manuscript—nurture yourself. Writing is exciting, painful, stressful, depleting, inspirational, and above all lots of work. Taking care of ourselves through the process allows us to bring something fresh and meaningful to the page day after day. Which brings me to…
WHAT WE PUT IN, IS WHAT WE GET OUT
Like anything else worth having this life, the energy and love and effort we put into a project SHOWS. To cultivate a ripe, juicy manuscript, be sure to seek…
Inspiration, aka rich experiences, tastes, and ideas: In order to write valuable, true, meaningful stories you have to leave your circle of comfort. Go out into that big wide world and gather new experiences. Try skills or hobbies you’ve never tried before, foods. Travel to “that side of town” or a different country. Authentic experiences engender authentic characters and conflict that’s REAL on the page, not to mention all of those juicy world-building details. Expand your world.
Scheduled time: Treat your writing time as if it were sacred. During these designated time slots, don’t make appointments, don’t go to lunch with your neighbor, don’t decide to repaint your house. Shut off your phones, close off the real world and enter the realm of the make believe. If you don’t treat your writing time with respect, it won’t respect you and you’ll find you aren’t gaining traction. Repeat after me: WRITING TIME IS SACRED.
Emotional selves: Practice ways to tap into your emotional well and bring it to the page. Meditation, journaling, and writing prompts are a few tools I’ve used in the past. But also, being cognizant of how I feel from day to the next is helpful. If I’m in an upbeat, energetic mood, I head to straight to the more active or playful scenes. If I’m feeling low or sad, I focus on the scenes in need of emotional depth. Dig beneath your many layers of defenses and funnel your emotions to the page. If you don’t, your pages will lack the compelling factor that hooks readers.
Above all, be positive, open, and hopeful. Don’t look behind you. Keep your eyes on your crop, and prepare for a ripe harvest. What will you do with your yield? In which direction will you go? With a homegrown, well-tended project, the sky is the limit.
How do you tend your manuscript and/or nurture yourself while working on a project?