Refilling the Well

A little while ago I wrote a review of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, after having “completed” the 12-week program. I put those quotation marks because whether or not I actually completed the program is actually up for debate. I did many of the tasks and exercises, but I also didn’t do a lot of them, if you know what I mean. If you read my review you’ll see that, in the end, I decided that the program was not for me. There were too many ideas and concepts that I just couldn’t quite agree with.

But there were a few things in the book that, when read, made me go “YES. Oh my flipping lord, YES.” One of those things was the concept of “refilling the well”. Basically, the idea is that we can wear ourselves out creatively. We can spend too much of our time and energy on the actual art, to the point that we’ve “drained the well”, so to speak. We run out of energy/ideas/creativity; we don’t know what’s wrong, exactly, but all of a sudden we find ourselves staring at a blank page without any idea of how to make use of it, or everything we create feels like complete and utter crap, or just the thought of working on our art anymore makes us want to burst into tears.

"Yep. Just as I thought. Dry as a bone." Image courtesy of Natasha Hanova
“Yep. Just as I thought. Dry as a bone.”
Image courtesy of Natasha Hanova

The suggestion, based on this phenomenon, is that creativity is a finite source, and we have to replenish it from time to time. It’s like calories; if we continuously burn more calories than we take in, we starve. If we use up all our creativity without shoring up our supply, we eventually run out and have nothing left to draw from.

So how exactly do we shore up our supply? Well, my experience thus far has been that the best way to rebuild creative stores is to allow yourself to experience other people’s creativity. Read books, watch movies, play video games. Allow yourself to enjoy and fully experience the creations of others. Say, for example, that you’ve been working on a science fiction novel. Take an evening and watch some classic sci-fi movies – you might just get some great ideas for that scene you’ve been stuck on. Working on something visual, like a painting, and not quite sure where you’re going with it? Spend a few hours on sites like Flickr and DeviantArt. Seeing how others have accomplished similar things might give you the spark you need to keep moving forward.

Why am I talking about this today? Because I am currently in the process of desperately trying to refill the well. Though I’ve finally gotten back to work on the last bit of manuscript editing I have to do (more on that tomorrow), I’ve been woefully disappointing in the amount of new writing that I’ve been doing of late. I just haven’t been able to push myself to sit down with a blank page and write something new; no new chapters to unfinished stories, no new drabbles or short stories…nothing new at all. Blogging, while important in its own way, does not count. I need to be writing new fiction. Lots of it. You can’t get better at writing unless you force yourself to do a lot of it, and you are seriously unlikely to reach a large year-long word-count goal if the only words you’re writing are for your blog.

And so here I find myself, staring into the well, tossing things in and hoping that soon I’ll be able to see the top of the pile. I’ve been (as previously mentioned) reading the most recent Sookie Stackhouse novels. I’ve recently completed (along with every trophy, thank you very much) the PS Vita game, Tearaway. I’ve been watching movies with my husband (most recently a horror and a goofy Grindhouse flick) and have plans to start watching the Doctor Who show right from the beginning original episodes. I’ve been using the books my husband gave me for Christmas to learn more about my favorite superheroes, their backgrounds, their villains, and their comrades.

Am I feeling more creative yet? Maybe a little. Maybe a little too much. I find myself actually drowning a little bit in the ideas. I’m not sure what to go for, where to turn next. There are so many areas on which I could focus, and I can’t tell which one I’m most interested in. While attempting to refill the well, I may have actually leaned a little too far forward and fallen in.

But it’s a good problem to have, I think. Soon I am going to be returning to my “day job” out West, a job that involves a lot of physical labor, moving about outside, and thinking technically. Therefore it is going to be a joy to go back to my room at night, curl up with my tablet or a new blank journal, and just write. Maybe I’ll choose one direction and aim for it with laser precision. Or maybe I’ll spin the needle each night and see where the winds take me. Either way, I suspect that 2014 is going to be an interesting year for seeing what pops out of my brain and onto the page.

 

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