Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 12

Have you ever heard the term “refilling the well?”  If not, it may be time that you did.  Because what you don’t know can hurt you.

Writers spend most of their time – intentionally or not – creating.  Even when we’re not actively writing, when we think we’re going about our daily chores, we’re still processing things in the back of our heads.

But logic, and process, is only part of the story.  The ability to create – to synthesize a new, meaningful reality – doesn’t appear out of thin air.  It’s the pooling of everything we think and feel and experience, the observations that we’re not even aware we’re making.  All that goes into the well, that deep space inside you, where it sits for days or sometimes even years, blending everything into the Stuff we make stories from.

The well, though, is a finite thing.  It cannot create experiences; only hold them.  And while a ‘bucket’ of experiences can be used over and over again, recombining to create something new, eventually the well can go stale, or run dry.

What happens if the well goes dry?  You know.  You feel cranky, irritable, restless. You may find yourself with something to say but no sense of how to say it, or the story stutters and stops mid-page.   The thought of having to create is exhausting.  Often, your loved ones will say “you need a vacation*.”

And they’re right.

Not a writers’ retreat (as discussed in earlier PMs), but an actual leave-work-at-home outing.  Close the laptop.  Put away the pen and paper. Leave your too-familiar surroundings and go Do Something Else.  Ideally, something you’re never done, somewhere you’ve never gone, or are not familiar with.  It doesn’t have to be exotic; it doesn’t have to be expensive.   You’re looking for new experiences, both small (the taste of a new food, or a style of music you’re not familiar with) and large (learning that yes, you CAN [or can’t], jump off a bridge with nothing but a bungee cord to protect you, and all the emotions that come with that).

I’m not talking about ditching everything for a week or more – that isn’t practical for most of us, especially if we’re on a deadline.  But even the most intense and killer deadline has room for an hour or three.

During this break, don’t push yourself to write.  Don’t think about what you may or may not be learning.  Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of “I’m not working, therefore the time is wasted.”    Soak in the moments, quiet and loud, beautiful and annoying, the frustrations and the insights.  Wallow in it, your senses as wide open as you can crank them.

That, drop by drop, sensation by sensation, refills the well.  You will wake up, and the restlessness and irritation will have been replaced by the more familiar – and enjoyable – urgency of Something needing to get Out.

And next time, don’t wait until you’re dry.  Make a point of refilling the well on a regular basis, every chance you get.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take my own advice.

*or something less kind.  You may feel the urge to develop that into a fight.  Resist.  They’re probably right.


Coming up in Week 13:    Submit in Haste, Repent in Leisure…

Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy.  Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, will be published by Fairwood Press in June 2011.  For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)  And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at Learn more at, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 12 — 14 Comments

  1. I’m here…I’m finding the wisdom useful (particularly today’s) for anyone, not just writers…

  2. Hi Laura!

    Having added writing blogs and podcasts to my mix lately, I’ve come across similar concerns. Kevin J Anderson, for example, apparently goes hiking in order to refill his creative well. He doesn’t consider it time wasted to recharge his batteries.

    And as J Byrd said above, this advice doesn’t only apply to writers. It’s good advice for everyone

  3. Paul — yeah, but Kev also dictates stories as he’s hiking, which makes it a slightly different thing. It’s hard to take in what you’re seeing around you when you’re that focused on the internal world, too.

  4. This is one of the reasons I have talk radio on so much. The slow drip drip of voices and information not only keeps me from becoming a total hermit, it spills words and ideas and images into that well almost every day. Today, for instance, I heard about a surviving charivari tradition (which now highlights things like people-smuggling). I don’t know what that may turn into in my head, but it’s there, ticking.

  5. This is why I find that writer’s ideal of “quitting my day job” rather appalling. (Well, that, and I really like my day job….) I’m not great at the self-motivational thing, and having the job pretty much refills my well, whether I ask for it or not, every day. I suspect this only works in a place where there are few routine days and a pretty startling array of people and happenings, but having something that’s a completely unrelated form of creative endeavor is really, really nice.

    (… and leaves me a lot less time to write than I’d like, but you can’t have everything…..)

  6. Kat — yes, exactly. My “career” day job was the flip side of writing, which had its own pluses/minuses to it, but that’s why I never hesitate to take side jobs as they come along, -especially- if they’re not writing-related. All sorts of wonderful bits fall into your life, that way, and enrich both it, and the writing.

    Some people like the routine of Everything/Everyone stays the same. I don’t believe that a writer can afford it.

  7. Laura Anne –
    Sometime I will keep in mind for when it is needed.
    Mostly, I wanted to let you know how much I’m enjoying the whole Practical Meerkat series. Hint: I think there’s a book in here . . . . I know I’d buy a copy.

  8. Quitting the day job also means you have no limits to how much time you can spend writing, and no one wants to do that.

    Reading can also help recharge the well.

  9. Mary – not quite sure I understand your comment about “no limits.” There are -always- limits (unless you forgo all other human [and non-human] contact and obligations, which may seem desirable some days but it’s really practical). I’d love to spend my day writing, today, but there are Errands and Chores and Etc….

    And yes, reading is good for refilling the well, but only if you read outside what you’re writing. Non-fiction on a different topic is excellent for that.

  10. A great reminder.

    Living in the present isn’t something that comes naturally to me, I always feel guilty about the time spent. (Even if it is just time I would otherwise waste.) This is a great reminder that it isn’t time wasted, it is time experienced.

  11. I love this advice! I have a teacher who gave it to me several years ago. I thought there was no way I could fit in that well-filling time, or justify it, but now I find it absolutely crucial & wouldn’t go without it. I’m a much happier person for it, and these days, more productive!

  12. Pingback: March 28, 2011 Links and Plugs : Hobbies and Rides