Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Writer's Lifestyle & the Laws of the Harvest

I remember years ago when I read Stephen King's On Writing the sentence I hated most in that book: "You must not come to the blank page lightly."  I realize now that he wasn't accusing me of that, but telling me what I shouldn't do, but for some reason when I read it I know I felt, "You haven't brought your best work to the blank page yet.  You're still just doing it lightly.  Stop and start over."  And it was that which made me so angry that I devoured every last word of the rest of his book.  It was a very good book, but I still didn't understand what coming to the blank page lightly meant until recently.

As I've been working on "Crimes of the Umbramancer," I realize there are times that I have come to it very lightly.  I've come to the blank page writing out of obligation.  I've come to the blank page writing out of need.  I've come to the blank page writing out of fear.  And you may sit there and say that that's not coming to the blank page lightly, but I would have to disagree, because I know that when obligation, need, or fear are the primary motivators of my writing that it sowing seeds for later writing.  And when the seeds sown are seeds that eventually drive people from writing, the writing is light.  It didn't lay seeds that could reach into the soil of life and build a lifestyle.  It didn't lay seeds that could reach the depths of the concrete jungle of publishing and build me a career.  It didn't lay seeds that could touch the hearts of an audience that would care about what I wrote.  I approached the blank page lightly.
By John W. Lawrence

During NaNoWriMo when I originally wrote the first draft, I never sat down one day and came to it lightly.  Instead I came with hope, love, and enjoyment of what I was doing.  I started out blogging that same way.  But it has been hard and I'm still learning lessons about what it means to come to things "lightly."  Recently I came across a quote that really got me thinking though, from a book called The Seven Laws of the Harvest.  I would like to share those laws with you in hopes that they help you as much as they have helped me since I ran across them.

Wild Rose Seeds
Let's start with the first law: We reap only what has been sown.  What does this mean for us as writers?  It has a lot to do with the emotional sets we choose when we go out to do any writing project. If you write out of obligation, what you are sowing is that you want to write out of obligation.  That can create positive pressure to write, but what if it doesn't?  What if you find yourself unable to write because you are obligated to do it?  I think this often happens to us young writers, because we want certain things to happen on a specific timeline.  We obligate ourselves to write instead of enjoy our writing.  We stop enjoying the process, the adventure, and the story and get caught up in all the details such as "I have to take that adverb out", "That isn't going to be realistic", or my personal favorite "This isn't good.  I should start over."  Stop sowing obligation and start sowing joy again.  We write because we love it.  Some of us will be able to make a living off of it.  Others of us will entertain our children with our stories.  All of us should be invested in making a life out of it.  And life is meant to be enjoyed.

White Wild Roses
The Second Law: We reap in same kind as we sow.  If you want wild roses you plant a wild rose seed, not a rose seed.  If you want a thoughtful research paper for a paper on genetics you do good thoughtful research on genetics, not research on how many hours it took you to get to the end of Halo Reach.  If you want to have a book loved and read by many, you spend the hours writing that book.  What you sow will be the same kind when you go to reap.  And you cannot reap the full benefits of something you did not sow.  When you cook the microwave dinner you don't reap the benefit of the feeling of having cooked a meal for your family, you reap the feeling of convenience.  It has been my experience that we sow what is easy and complain during the reaping season about not getting the rewards of sowing something hard.  If you really want something beautiful, you're going to have give hard work to make certain that it comes to pass.

The Third Law: We reap in a different season than we sow.  So many things in life come so easily. The internet equals instant knowledge.  Our microwaves equal instant food.  Our televisions equal instant entertainment.  But we so frequently forget that in those endeavors we are reaping the reward of what someone else sowed.  And when we buy into that thinking, we forget that to really get the best things in life we have to give them time, nurturing, love, and work to bring them to life.  Writing a good novel is like raising a child.  We sow the seeds and a child is born.  Then it takes eighteen to twenty years of work to make certain that child becomes a good person.  The season of sowing is eighteen years away from when you reap the full benefits.  A good novel requires the same kind of dedication and love.  (Just hopefully not eighteen or twenty years worth.)

The Fourth Law: We reap more than we sow.  Think of a single seed of corn seed.  If you plant this you will get one ear of corn that has at least 600 kernels.  So the yield you get for each seed of corn is at least six hundred fold.  An acre at 84 rows of corn will plant at least 22,000 stalks of corn.  And if you consider each stalk to only give you one ear of corn that becomes 13,200,000 kernels of corn.  So the return on what is sowed is huge.  It gives you good reason to practice.  And make sure you do all you can to take care of what you have sown.  Because when the time for harvest comes, you are going to be pulling in a lot more than what you put into it.  And that is a beautiful thing.

The Fifth Law: We reap in proportion to what we sow.  Back to the corn analogy, if you only sow a half acre of corn at 11,000 stalks and only get 6,600,000 kernels you got what you deserved.  You can only reap what you actually sow.  A master pianist didn't get that way because they played piano once when they were a child.  No, they had to practice and work at that talent until they nurtured it into a gift that could touch lives and enable them to find an audience to listen to their music.  Writing is the same way.  We reap in proportion to what we sow.  Our seeds are different so some of us may reap the benefits of writing poetry for our families.  Others of us may make careers out of our writing.  What makes all the difference in the world is the fact that we sow enough seeds to get the return we are looking for.

The Sixth Law: >We reap the full harvest of the good only if we persevere; the evil comes to harvest on its own.   Often times when we sow our seeds, we will discover that weeds come in and try to grow along with our harvest.  Even though this can seem bad, we can't stop this process.  The good and bad seeds both desire the same ground to use for their growth.  What we can control is where we nourish and strengthen.  If we spend our time nourishing and strengthening our good seeds until the time comes to harvest we will be able to take the good part and destroy the chaff.  As writers this means we have to invest in our story until we finish it.  If we spend all our time revising, editing, and in other words not getting to the end of our story we will lose it.  However if we strengthen it along the way and learn what we can from the process when we get to the end we will be able to remove all the ugliness we are able at the end.

The Seventh Law: We cannot do anything about last years harvest, but we can about this years.  So you failed last year to get your harvest to come to pass?  Or you didn't get the book written?  Well guess what?  That's okay.  There is this year.  Don't make the same mistakes this year that you made last year.  That is one of the best parts about this entire process.  You learn from it the entire time.  If you learn you reap the benefits of greater understanding of yourself and how you function.  You know what you need to do to motivate yourself to write.  (Like I motivate myself with saying I can have an orange soda each time I write.)  The past is there to learn from, the future is before us to prepare for, and today is for us to act.  Make this year the best you can make it.  Plant hope to become a better writer.  Plant love for storytelling.  Plant an enjoyment of sharing your heart with others.  And as you plant those things this years harvest will be different than last years.

To date this has been the best year I've ever had writing.  And I've loved the majority of it.  I just had to learn a lesson about what it means to come to the blank page with intent to make a story that I love, instead of writing out of obligation to anyone or anything.  Writing is my lifestyle.  I am getting better at living this lifestyle all the time.  And I know that one day, that investment is going to get me what I really want.  An ability to touch the hearts of people with the words I write.

This is two bits.
That's my two bits for this week.  I'd love to hear about your two bits.  Tell me about the kinds of harvests you have had writing.  Good ones, bad, or somewhere in the middle?  Hope everyone has a wonderful week!  I'll catch ya later!  Peace.


  1. Wow, that's a great post, and probably full of more stuff than I can absorb at one sitting, but I definitely agree with one thing - that sitting down to write with excitement and passion is NOT approaching it lightly. ;)

    Lately, I've been tackling block revision for my 2009 Nanowrimo manuscript, and it's not going like I thought - for one thing, I'm feeling moved to do fresh rewrites of more scenes than I'm finding actual text that I can adapt from a prior draft. But I'm having a great time with it, and the idea, the concept that I set out to write that November is still as exciting and as cool to me. Now, after months of work with Holly Lisle's revision course, I understand what I need to do to tell that story, in ways that I didn't when I first started.

    I'm looking for some ninja writers to interview for my Ninja spotlight series. If you're interested, go to to find out more!

  2. Hey Jayrod--hope things are going well with you. Hope you and the family are doing well. Just checkin' in. May your imagination be endless and your pen be able to write it all down! Take care.


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