So, we’re back for a second day of Emma Brockes’s marvelous ideas about writing. I saw her last Saturday in Oxford, and she spoke eloquently on the subject. I already do what she does, but I’ve never explained the why or how; she explained those things in her presentation at the weekend, so I’m regurgitating them for your benefit.
I liked her. She was good. Listen up. Trust me, it’s worth it.
You probably all remember the Three Field System from history lessons in school. At least, that’s where I learned about it. Take two different crops in your three fields and rotate them, always leaving one field fallow. If you constantly grow the same crop in the same field you’ll always deplete the same nutrients from the soil and the crops will soon begin to fail. What’s more, any pathogens will multiply exponentially, and, in no time at all, you’ll be in a world of hurt.
Now apply that principle to writing.
If you move between projects of different types, styles, lengths, weights, you stand a chance of staying sane, which is good. What's better, is that the writing stays fresh. If you hammer away at the same thing all day, every day, you’ll begin to get bogged down, and the writing will suffer. How is it possible for a comedy writer to write good quality jokes all day long? The truth is, it isn’t. Neither is it possible for a novelist to write nothing but longform, prose fiction for months at a time and it be brilliant. Those who do it start to repeat themselves, their foibles begin to show, their habits to irritate, because they’re locked in their heads, and there’s nowhere else for them to go.
I write every day. Some of that is the novel I’m currently working on, but some of it is tweets and e-mails, and some of it is this blog. All of those things exercise different writing muscles, and each of those things feeds back into the beast.
Of course, modern farming methods run along the same lines as the ancient three field system, except that there is no fallow field. Now there is companion planting, and multiple crops per year, and higher yielding strains of all kinds of grains... and so it goes. There’s more pressure on the land to produce, more pressure on the farmer, and more fertiliser (organic and synthetic) being heaped onto the earth. There’s more standardisation too, so that the foodstuffs that turn up in our supermarkets appear rounder, or a more uniform size or colour, more generic and with a longer shelf-life.
For my money, I’ll take the old three field system. I’ll stick with the original. I’ll keep my fallow field. I like a little wiggle room. I’ll call it my time to think and to read; I’ll call it my time to throw ideas around with the people who stimulate me. We all need time to take stock, to look around us. We’re writers and we spend a lot of time alone with our thoughts, hammering away on our computers. There’s no future in running on empty... not for me, at least.
Gosh... That was such a simple idea when Emma talked about it, and I’ve turned it into rather a snark. I could take a leaf out of her book.