November 15, 2016

A Lesson From the Dust Bowl - Tracy Krauss

The idea of taking a sabbatical from writing - enforced or chosen - is actually a Biblical concept. Then why do we get so stressed when these 'winter' seasons come?

God instituted a Sabbath rest every seventh day. He instructed that the land be allowed to rest and rejuvenate every seven years. The seasons themselves speak to the natural order of God's laws and were put in place for a reason. It follows, then, that 'downtime' is also necessary for the creative process.

In my 'real life' as a high school teacher, my students and I have been investigating the many causes of the Great Depression. It's hard for them to truly grasp the extent of the devastation, especially on the prairies. I've been sharing some first hand stories passed down from my mother who was just a young girl during the 'Dirty Thirties'. She used to say that they set the table with the plates upside down because by the time the food was brought to the table, there would be a visible ring of dust around the plate.

Unfortunately, it was more than just eight years of drought that brought on the devastation. Previous to the downturn, many farmers engaged in continuous one-crop farming. Wheat was in high demand after World War 1 and prices were high, so farmers just kept planting the same thing, year after year, with no thought to how this was depleting the soil. When the drought hit and the winds started to blow, the soil just blew away, largely because of these poor practices. Of course, now farmers are very aware of leaving a certain amount of 'fallow' each year, as well as rotating crops, and adding nutrients to the soil. Without necessary rest, disaster will result. It's just one of the laws of nature.

I can't say that I have ever had a prolonged season of writer's block. I have had my ups and downs, but when I hit an unproductive patch I try not to beat myself up too much. The fact that I 'rotate crops' a lot (a.k.a. I write a lot of different things) probably helps keep things moving. Even then, I recognize that there is more to writing than the act of writing. If I find I am in a slump, I try to read more instead. Reading is never a waste of time, even if it's just 'feel good' fiction. I find it's one of the best ways to bring me out of a dry spell and make me excited about writing my own stories again.

The bottom line is this: Times of rest are an essential part of any endeavour. For some people these are short breaks while for others they are drawn out. Either way, they are accomplishing the same thing - a better writer on the other side.

Tracy Krauss teaches high school Art, Drama, and English and in her 'spare' time she writes - novels, stage plays, devotionals, blog posts and lots of other drivel. Visit her website at:  - fiction on the edge without crossing the line - 


  1. Well said, Tracy. My husband and I are farmers in Ontario and I understand the need to rotate crops and your comparison of writing different things was rather interesting for me. I also enjoyed the bit about the plates being upside down until dinner. You weaved an informative story!

    1. Growing up on the prairies, these types of stories were common things to hear from anyone who had 'lived it'.

  2. Thanks for this mind opener, Tracy. I have never thought of farming as a metaphor for writing, but I get what you're saying and this inspires me. You've made me realize that I have been stuck writing mostly non-fiction. Whether I write a devotional, blog, religious article, essay, or memoir, these genres still fall into the general area of non-fiction. My poetry has almost gone the way of the do-do bird and fiction is still my scare crow. Thanks for this ah-ha moment.

    1. Someone at conference made the point that it is good to have critique partners outside one's genre, too, because they bring a fresh perspective. it might have been Carol Schafer who mentioned that someone who writes in a different genre can still be a good first editor because good writing is just good writing, no matter the genre.


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