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.