Ah, harvest time. The time of pumpkins and colorful leaves and crisp air and getting the kids’ Halloween costumes on time and figuring out who to invite for Thanksgiving and how not to gain fifteen pounds by Christmas because you’ll have to attend a New Year’s Eve party that your ex will be at it and you need to look good. I bet it makes even Martha Stewart want to crawl under the bed with a box of Oreos and a backlog of People magazine until January 2nd.
Isn’t it strange that harvesting is sort of supposed to be the opposite of all that? A time for reaping the rewards of patient waiting and gathering essentials for the long winter ahead? But who has time? After all, if you plant something, aren’t you supposed to be constantly tugging at the fruit or adding MiracleGro or insisting that if it isn’t ready according to schedule, heads will roll?
Here’s the thing, though: lots of things, including novels, will simply refuse to develop under these conditions. Sure, we can force them to deliver some premature, shriveled version of themselves ahead of schedule, but they’ll never really blossom. And their fruit definitely won’t be productive in turn.
We usually think of writers as solo artists, delivering solo acts. Ultimately, that may appear to be true, but I’d be willing to bet that most of the writing that really sticks with us has pretty deep roots. Writing is, after all, an act of communication, which makes it also an act of reaching out. And sure, you can reach out and, say, smack someone right this minute, but maybe you could also reach out more carefully, more genuinely, with a little more vulnerability and a little less intention? After all, things only grow in concert with the earth, not simply because they’re on it. And in order to do so, they also usually need to be out of our sight and out of our hands.
Am I actually saying that if you’re stuck on a big project, written or otherwise, you should just take your hands off the wheel? I am (at least for a little while, though you might want to stop the car first and roll down the windows). Think of it this way: you can gestate by bouncing around with your fetus and reading pregnancy books that make you want to check your urine every hour and/or avoid every gram of sugar within a ten mile radios and/or call up your long-suffering obstetrician to demand a weekly sonogram, OR, you can put your hands on your belly and think warmly about what you can’t see, and/or feed the person it rests within good food, and/or talk to it, even when it’s not answering. Because underneath all that noise and hurry and worry and demand, there’s a quality of waiting that’s graceful and observant, a self-settling that helps you get quiet enough to really listen to what’s developing and maybe actually hear what it has to say.