Farming the Imagination

Writing is a lot like farming.

Bear with me here. They both involve hard work. While farming requires a lot of physical labor which writing does not, try asking anyone who has sat in front of a blank page or an empty word processing document, writhing with the task of producing something worth reading, whether they toil. Metaphysical, mental, emotional toil, it is true, but toil nonetheless.

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They both require a hefty time investment, and a lot of attention and care. Holidays are things for other people.


There is no guarantee of results.  Despite every effort, the product may never make it to market. Bad weather conditions can spoil crops; illnesses can afflict farm animals. Editorial gatekeepers, agents and publishers reject work. If the product does make it to market, there is no guarantee that it will sell for a price that will cover the cost to produce it.


There is a lot of advance work. Before anything ever is ready to come “to market,” the farmer and the writer have both put in countless hours in the planting, growing, shaping, nurturing, and improving of their goods. In all that time, they have not been remunerated by anything outside of their own desire for success.

Both produce something from nothing.

I’ve had farming on the brain a lot recently. I’ve been following stories of small farmers across the country being harassed by government agencies for one thing or another (as if farming wasn’t hard enough on its own), and I’ve personally been trying to source farm-fresh goods for myself, now that I’ve moved most of the way across the country and depending on my previous supply is not very practical. So I naturally turned to the article in this spring’s edition of Women’s Adventure magazine, featuring three women farmers from three different regions of the United States.

By any measure, it is clear these three women love what they do, and they pursue it with a sense of purpose: to share their knowledge, passion, and results with other people. Their work doesn’t end on the field, either, as two of the three have off-farm jobs and the third runs a non-profit organization around farming. And clearly, none of their experiences were a get-rich-quick scheme.

None of these ladies had a boss. There was no marketing department, or a crop (pun intended) of interns to take care of the grunt work.

The same thing goes for writing, really, or any other creative endeavor. It fills me with a sense of purpose. I’m writing for myself, but I also want to share with others: the glories of the imagination, the advantages of information. I don’t have a boss; I don’t clock out at the end of the day. I don’t receive assignments from someone else. I don’t delegate. I don’t have conference calls to strategize with other people. I do it because I love it and not because I had an idea that I’d be able to retire to a private island in the Caribbean after a certain prescribed amount of time, and stop writing.

Retirement? It’s such an ugly word. Talk about boredom.

Like the farmer, whenever I start something, I have to start from scratch. I may stay up all hours to complete a project. Saturday and Sunday are just days – time that can be used. Although I can turn to others for advice, ultimately I am the one responsible for the flourishing of my creative seed. Eventually, I set up my little farm stand, and hope that someone will enjoy the appearance and the flavor.

There is not much that I can do if they don’t. Tinker with the recipe. Try different ingredients, different methods of production. And get the word out to more people.

If there is a run on the stand, I have to be sure to have enough to provide for the market. I don’t want anyone to go empty-handed.

Even before I’ve sold the crop, I’m thinking about the next one. I’m laying the groundwork, I’m getting the seeds, I’m fertilizing the soil. Maybe I’m sprouting in the greenhouse, and I can check whether it’s ready to go at any time. I’ve asked around, to see of other people might be interested in partaking of this new crop. This one here – this is just one season. This is just one year. This is just one effort.

And so we begin again, the farmer and the writer.  Rolling up our sleeves.  Making sure the equipment is in order.  Getting ready for inclement weather.

The difference is, the farmer is outside.  I’m farming the imagination.

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