Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Refilling the Creative Well

At this time of year, anyone who writes and also has a job (to pay the bills) is hanging out for the December-January break, because that's the time when you can read and get fully back into writing. That's if you don't have a million family commitments. If you teach, this also tends to be the one time of the year when you can stop filling your head with other people's writing and focus on your own.

BUT. It's not that easy. Nine months of other people's writing has done more than fill your head and sap your energy. It has, in the words of a Hamline faculty member, Jane Resh Thomas, drained the well. Like many writers who teach, Jane has experienced what it means to have a well of creativity that gradually runs dry. After all, you're not doing your teaching job very well if you hold everything at a distance and treat grading and feedback like a multi-choice performance review. But when you put your passion into teaching and other people's writing, you pay.

I'm not complaining about teaching writing. I love it, and always have. So do the other writing teachers I know. But we also know that when it comes to the well, by December it's pretty well at rock bottom. Just a few inches of dry dust down there ...

So how do you re-fill the well? Here are some ideas:

  • Reading. I save books for the end of the year, books that I'm too tired to read up till now, books that are pure escapism, books that I know will feed my creative brain. One year it took me all 12 months to work up to The God of Small Things but was it ever worth it! This year I have a stack that includes Junot Diaz, Ron Rash, Amy Espeseth, Ransom Riggs and even a Jonathan Franzen.
  • Poetry. Every writer should refill their well with some poetry. I'll be re-reading some old favourites, but I've re-signed to receive a Poem a Day, and I have some anthologies saved up, plus I will probably buy Best Australian Poems for this year.
  • Free writing and journalling. It's great to start a new project or get back to work on a novel or project you've had to keep putting aside all year, but taking time to get in touch with the joy of simply writing, with no outcome other than "oiling the cogs", will benefit all the other writing you do.
  • Find a couple of writing blogs to inspire you and make you feel less alone and more "in tune" with the writing world again. One of my favourites is Writer Unboxed, simply because every post is different and yet helpful. I also like Kristen Lamb's blog - I like her honesty and sense of inclusion. As she says, We are not alone.
  • Stay in touch with fellow writers like yourself. If you need to feel re-inspired and get writing again, have a coffee with someone who feels like you - not someone who never writes or who spends all their time complaining and making excuses. You know who the valued writing friends are - get together and talk writing and books!

I haven't been teaching this year but I have been studying and writing full-time, and my well is a bit dusty, too, from finishing two completely different novels. I need some time-out before I start the next one, so I've been doing the one other thing that makes me feel creative and industrious again (goodness only knows why!). I've been spring cleaning my office! Apart from creating large piles of rubbish for the bin, I've also been finding poems and stories that are ready for another draft, notebooks and random pages of ideas, and more books that I'd put away to read later. I'm starting to feel re-inspired already.

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