Monday, April 4, 2016

Filling the Well

“Filling the Well” is a phrase I first encountered many years ago in Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.” It’s a concept for writers that's quite simple to grasp, harder to accomplish. It simply refers to having new experiences, getting out into the world, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting new things so that you can write about them.

It’s a great thing to do in that down-time after finishing a major project, oh, like say my novel, “Happy, Indiana.” Of course, another great thing to do in that downtime is a whole lot more writing. I wrote a picture book and I’m working on a trillion essay ideas because I’ve learned you have to constantly keep writing, otherwise, a rejection comes in, and you crawl back into bed, when what you really want to happen is--the rejection comes in and you’re all nonchalant, like oh, what are you even talking about, agent/editor person? That old project? Why, fiddle dee dee, I’ve almost completely forgotten about that because you see, I am so very, very busy with so many very exciting projects and prospects…
Selfie finishing the novel in my footie pjs.

But back to filling that well. Now, good writers read, a lot, and so new ideas are always coming in to the old brain that way, but there’s really no substitute for experiencing things first-hand. It doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. The last time I taught a creative writing class, I had my students seek out a new experience, and one of the young men went to a local yarn store (now, sadly, defunct) and explored around and struck up a conversation with the proprietress about various types of yarn and had a grand old time and, who knows, may feature some kind of crochet loving character in his next story.

In other words, we don’t have to spring for air fare to another country to fill the well. But, we do need to get off the couch/out of our writing closet. And this is hard for a lot of us, myself included. We like being alone in our closets with our words and our ideas, but the problem is, if we don’t get off our tushies, we develop flat tushies and, more importantly, run the risk of writing about writers, of writing scenes with characters in coffeehouses, of writing characters who spend a lot of time staring out windows (fyi—I had too many “She stared out the window…” lines in my novel and had to cut them back.) We’re generally a boring people, writers. Just boring people with outsized imaginations. But, like all monsters, imaginations have to be fed or they will turn on us.

So if you see a pasty looking misfit on the edge of your meeting on city zoning ordinances, it’s just a writer filling the well. If you see a weirdo at your craft fair booth rubbing the mosaic turtle you made, it’s just a writer trying to add to her sensory experiences. Just nod, back away slowly, and know you might be providing her the spark she needs for her next, great writing project.