The Art of Making Hay — Irrigation

Last week, Brian Rathbone made a comment on Twitter that editing was like baling hay. The ranch girl in me couldn’t resist. I could see a certain truth in it. I responded with writing was like raking hay because you were turning over ideas.

As I was thinking about this the next day, I wondered if I could equate the writing process to ranching. After all, most people don’t think writing is “real work.” Let me tell you, the artistic process is work. Creating something from nothing does take effort. Even those of us who enjoy it so much do still have to apply ourselves. As with any work, you have to “put your butt in the chair” and get it done.

Before I get too far off-topic, and also because this kind of bleed into today’s point, let’s talk about irrigation.

Irrigation is watering the fields. When I was growing up, we flood irrigated. That meant the water came to the ranch by canals and by opening or closing a series of gates we could divert the water down the ditches to whichever field we needed it to go to. We’d open the head gates at the top of the field to let the water spill out over the land. Before the water reached all the way to the end of the field, you ran up to the head gate on the next section of land to water, opened the gates, then closed the gates on the first piece. It you had “nailed it,” the water reached to the bottom part of the land without leaving too much water, running off somewhere you didn’t want water (as possible in the picture below), or without missing plants there. It didn’t take long to get use to the flow of the water and how long it would take for each section of the field to be irrigated.

Me, out irrigating (the driveway) I've got my boot and my shovel. Ready to work! Not sure if the water was actual irrigation run-off or from watering the trees.
Me, out irrigating (the driveway)
I’ve got my boot and my shovel. Ready to work!
Not sure if the water was actual irrigation run-off or from watering the trees.

How does this relate to writing? Irrigation is like the writer’s life. You have to enrich yourself with the experiences life gives you. Since feelings are universal, you need to allow them to wash over you and seep in, saturating you so you can recall them when you need to. I’ve often said that everything you experience in life is fodder for your writing. People, experiences, emotions, etc., all become a basis for you to gather ideas within.

I use to think this wasn’t true. Of course, that’s why I’m a better writer now than I was then. I used to believe that since you were making it up all along, you didn’t need to be around other people. The introvert in me really loved that excuse. Fortunately, I was still having to participate in life whether I liked it or not. Ah, to be young and stupid. Now I know that when I can look back on an experience and relate it to the scene I’m making up, I delve into the emotions of that memory and apply it to the scene. It becomes richer. I can mash feelings together. I did this a lot when I was building the relationship between Steigan and Lord Ithanes of Dubinshire in Manifest the Magic and To Birth a Destiny. Steigan is so distrustful of Ithanes at first, but he’s also intrigued. As their friendship grows, Steigan always had a wary sense that Ithanes is up to something, but he’s started to trust the Lord of Dubinshire. I’ve felt the way Steigan feels in Manifest the Magic where he was intrigued and scared of Ithanes, but it was the wariness as we went into To Birth a Destiny that I needed to merge emotions because I’ve never quite felt that way. I have had people break my trust, so I knew that pain and I felt Steigan anticipating it. If I’d never built a friendship though, would I have been prepared to build the friendship between my characters?

This is not an excuse for an artist to be flighty though. Don’t get all emotional and claim that it’s your right because you’re an artist. Keep it inside for when you need it. Don’t waste it. I’ve often been called cold and insensitive during my life. I’ve been told I’m like Spock. I had the contrast come very sharply to me when I was writing an information sheet for Art & Soul of Magic Valley and thinking about how my co-workers would take it if they read it. Would they see that level of emotion I had within myself? Would they think I was making it all up as I went along?

So, irrigation is your life. Let it flow over you. The land does not spit the water back out, but rather it soaks it all up. Take your life in. Don’t judge it, don’t get wrapped up in the drama other people try to give you, just absorb. You’ll need it all to grow. And we all know that you reap what you sow.