Rotating your crops

03 September 2018

Crop rotation in Kansas (public domain)

Crop rotation, Wikipedia tells us, is “the practice of growing dissimilar of different types of crops in the same area in sequenced seasons.”

Practiced for at least 6,000 years, crop cycles allow the nutrients in soil to replenish, which in turn reduces erosion and increases yield.

Yes, it’s time for another tenuous creative metaphor

Pick any great composer and you’ll see a body of work that is rich in different styles.

Ralph Vaughan Williams for example wrote nine symphonies, but he also turned his hand to folk songs, concertos and even a film soundtrack.

Beethoven, if he’s more your thing, penned 32 sonatas as well as concertos, piano trios and symphonies.

And as Twyla Tharp tells us: they didn’t do all their symphonies at once. They changed constantly from huge symphonies to intimate folk arrangements; from luscious serenades to simple quartets.

This movement was what kept them on their toes, refreshed their creative well and made them feel inexperienced - even relatively late into their career.

The American novelist Norman Mailer called this “rotating your crops”.

I wonder if the instinct to do this comes to us all naturally.

In my own work, after spending a year focused on methodically creating a single story, my urge is to do something messy and fast. If I’ve been writing lots, I feel an urge to flip to drawing; or from non-fiction to fiction.

It feels exciting, revitalising to leap from an area of expertise to one of novelty.

At the end of a big project, you can feel that you’ve become an expert at that style or form. The danger is to linger here in this comfortable space.

After all, an explorer who puts her roots down is no longer an explorer.