The Creative Well
If you’ve been hanging around writing or other creative communities for a while, you’ve most likely come across the phrase creative well. The creative well is extremely important when it comes to your ability to be a creative person, and in this post, we’re going to talk about what the creative well is and what to do when it runs dry. (Because it probably will run dry at some point.)
What is the creative well?
The creative well is just like a water well, except instead of water, it holds creativity.
While a lot of us these days get our water from our cities’ water systems rather than water wells, everyone has their own personal creative well. Whenever you go to create something, whether that’s a painting or a novel or a solution to a complex problem, you draw some creativity from your well.
Now, just like water wells, some creative wells tend to overflow, and some have occasional dry spells. Some stay fairly consistently full, while others rise and lower with the tides or the seasons. And also just like water wells, if you keep taking and taking and taking creativity from your creative well, it will dry up, and you’ll have to wait for it to refill again.
Most people’s creative wells will dry up from time to time, whether that’s from pulling out too much creativity or from life circumstances that require creativity to be used in other ways. And sometimes wells just go dry for no apparent reason. Fortunately with a creative well, we’re not at the mercy of nature. We don’t have to wait for a good rainstorm to get our wells filled back up again. We have a lot of influence on how quickly our creative well fills!
The source of creativity.
Before we can talk about specific steps to filling your well, we have to talk about where creativity comes from in the first place. You need three things for creativity: opportunity, curiosity, and inspiration. (Scientific American backs me up on this one.) Let’s break this down a bit:
Opportunity is the lack of other preoccupations. If you’re too busy worrying about how you’re going to afford rent this month, what you’re going to say in your presentation next week, what color to paint your bedroom, or other of life’s conundrums both big and small, then there’s no chance to be creative. Your mind is already occupied with other stuff!
Curiosity is looking at the world and asking questions about it. What exactly is that tree that grows in your neighbor’s yard? Why isn’t there a cure for cancer yet? What’s the best way to save yourself if you’re suddenly attacked by a bear? If you’re not asking questions about the world around you, then it’s hard to ask questions of your own ideas so that you can expand them into entire stories.
Finally, inspiration is seeing something another creator has done and feeling like you want to create something, too. This is the reason genres exist—somebody read a fantasy novel and decided they also wanted to write fantasy, but a bit differently, and this process repeated over and over. If you’re not consuming the creations of others, it’s harder to give direction and variety to your own creativity.
How to refill the creative well.
So now that we know where creativity comes from, let’s talk about how to fill up that creative well! I’m sure you have a few ideas already, but here are the basics:
The first and most important step is to take a break from creating for a while. Just like a water well, a creative will needs time to refill. But if you keep pulling creativity out of it the moment a little bit appears in there, it’s never going to get as full as you need for an entire novel. You might only need a day or two, or you may need a month or more!
Next, make sure you give yourself plenty of chances to be curious, either by shaking up your regular routine or being especially aware of the things around you. Instead of taking the same path as always on your daily walk, for example, go a different direction, and take special notice of what’s different in your environment. Take the time to research things that interest you, no matter how trivial or unrelated to your writing life. Ask your loved ones open-ended questions just to hear their opinions, even if you don’t agree with them.
Then get inspired! Read other books, watch a new TV show, play a new game, or listen to a new podcast. Go outside your comfort zone and read different genres and styles just to see what they’re like. Or take a deep dive within your comfort zone and find some stuff you’ve never seen before. Don’t just limit yourself to other storytelling art forms, either. Listen to music, look and handmade art, and enjoy photography. Since inspiration can come from anywhere, give it all the opportunities you can.
Writing a novel takes a lot of creativity, and that’s especially true for ones that require worldbuilding or multiple points of view. Make sure you’re taking good care of your creative well, and when it comes time to write, it’ll take good care of you, too.
What’s your favorite way to refill your creative well? Personally, I love anime and video games. Something about them always seems to spark ideas for me!
And if you’re on a creative break and need an editor to work on your story in the meantime, feel free to get in touch! I’m always happy to help.