Thursday, May 19, 2011

Inspiration on the Rocks

I believe in creative wells. Really, I do.

If you’re not familiar with this concept, I’ll break it down for you—the creative well is where you get inspiration. Some writers call it their garbage heap, where they throw all the scraps of things they collect during the day, and it composts into rich soil you can write in.

Another writer—If I remember correctly, Karen Wiesner in “First Draft in 30 Days”—said to treat ideas like a coffeepot. Keep adding them, let them brew. Another writer referred to it as his creative fog, which was a kind of thick mist in which ideas coalesced and dissipated until finally it grew so thick, the ideas solidified and he wrote them.

Your creative well, or whatever you want to call it, is the collection of your inspiration.

Not everybody believes in creative wells. It’s the same way not everyone believes in outlining, or writer’s block; some people just don’t rely on things like inspiration or their muse.

And so it can be very disturbing for the rest of us when, rather abruptly, we find it’s almost impossible to write. There’s a dissatisfaction with writing. Story ideas that were exciting feel flat. Ideas aren’t quick to come, and not only do we feel uninspired, we also feel a kind of lackluster. It makes you wander around with a teacup looking out different windows, wanting to not think so hard, and just enjoy something. It makes you read a book when you should be writing. It makes it hard for you to find inspiration in anything. The creative eye just isn’t there. You want a break. You feel tired.

You let your creative well run dry.

These sort of things can be due to procrastination, yes, or plot issues that left you directionless, or even some other vague form of writers block. But sometimes you really are out of inspiration and you do just need to take a break.

Because here’s what we know. You can’t write unless you have material to write with. To paraphrase an amazing writer whose name I wish I could remember, if you write using the same materials over and over and over, eventually there won’t be anything fresh left. You have to experience life to write life.

Some writers are leery of relying too much on inspiration, of waiting for the whole lightning bolt experience. It’s just laziness. We write, and then the lightning bolts come.

But the idea of having this creative well isn’t about laziness, it’s about the conscious search for inspiration—it’s about filling the creative well, over and over, so that we have something fresh to write from, some wellspring from which inspiration can flow.

This is why you need to read other books and poems and watch movies, why it’s important to run around with a notebook jotting down things you see and hear. This is why I hang out with creative people who aren’t necessarily writers, and I collect antiques, and I walk through old graveyards, and I take photographs, and I go hiking, and I do things that are different or new…it’s all part of the process of filling the creative well.

So, sometimes, it's important to take a step back. To spend the afternoon (or a day, or three) reading a few good books and sipping some tea. If you finish a writing project, reward yourself by refilling the creative well. If you write an important scene, spend some time filling the creative well. Go walk through a meadow, go bowling, go to a museum or a play, go driving some night with a full moon. Flip open the notebook. Jot down things you see.

And when you wander back with a daisy behind your ear, the smell of library books in your clothes, and lyrics on your breath, you'll have something to write about.

Truly and always,

-Creative A


Elizabeth Twist said...

Absolutely excellent post. The harder I write, the more I need to fill time with acts of non-writing. Hiking in nature is one of my favourites, but also meditation, tai chi, reading, socializing, going to see plays, watching movies, doing random research, listening to radio. Or even just cutting the lawn or sweeping the stairs. All of these things give the brain time to think sideways - the essence of filling the well, I think.

Ryan Sullivan said...

Surely my creative well is ready to just burst after all this time! Actually, I'm giving myself a little challenge tonight with an aim of 1,000 words. I might go for another 2,000 over the weekend, but I'll just start with tonight. It's not to make up for not writing . . . but I do want to feel like I've made some progress!

Shyxter said...

Very nice article! It's true that most writers wait for an inspiration to start writing. But sometimes, especially when the awaited inspiration does not come, we have to start writing our thoughts so that inspiration can come in. I agree with you when you said that lack of inspiration for a writer is called laziness.

Like any other talent, writing is a continuous process of learning. Being a writer does not mean you just have to be at your desk the whole day to think and wait for creative ideas to come in. A writer needs to see the world and discover life for himself. Because if you have truly lived and experienced joy and pain, you can write with all your heart.

Creative A said...

Elizabeth -- that's true for me as well! The more writing I do, the more I need to "tank up" so to speak.

Creative A said...

Ryan -- did you make the challenge? There's some funny caveats about the creative well, I'll admit. Sometimes time makes your burst to write; sometimes, you go stale. Honestly though I think it depends on why you had to wait.

There were weeks in college when I couldn't write, so I brainstormed endlessly. Those weeks I came out and wrote a storm. Other times I forgot about my novel completely. By the weekend, I had no creativity whatsoever.

Creative A said...

Shyxter -- Great points, you really laid out the balance there. Crazy as it seems, being a writer means learning how to both sit and write mercilessly, and how to gather inspiration creatively. Thanks for the comment!

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