Geetanjali Mukherjee

Monday, July 1, 2013

Balancing the Well

Julia Cameron wrote in one of her books about filling the well, filling ourselves on art and images and creative input, so that we are brimming with fresh ideas and creativity for our own projects. This is the premise behind her concept of 'Artist's Dates' - spending time on your own doing something creative like visiting a gallery, or a bookstore, or watching a play.
In my own life I have noticed that if I go too long without fresh creative input, I start to feel stale and dispirited. It starts to infect my work, even if I am working on something dry like a journal article. Taking the time to fill my well, even if it’s as simple as watching a movie that is quite different from the kind I usually watch, can inject fresh enthusiasm and ideas.
I have even started to intuitively feel the level at which my well is filled - half, three-quarters, full to the brim. When I am feeling full to the brim of ideas and thoughts, I can actually overcome the usual crippling writer's block that assails me most days. Skipping with enthusiasm and admiration for the talent and creativity of others' work, I feel slightly braver and want to attempt my own. To me, this is the main advantage of filling the well - keeping the sniping Critic at bay.
The other side of this though, is that you can be endlessly filling the well, but never drawing from it. It's much less risky to keep reading books, watching movies and listening to other people's music, and never putting yourself on the line by attempting any art of your own. Thus, you are basically overflowing your well - you keep adding to it, but never withdrawing and using any of the creative sparks generated by all this input. Without output of a fairly regular nature, you're not able to use the excess input, which simply drains away.
I was like this for many years, and am even guilty of it now at times. It can be tempting to have lots of exciting ideas, write them down on a notepad or Evernote, and then keep diving into ever more exciting creative entrees, gorging on the smorgasbord of art available for consumption in the digital age. You may think by writing the idea down you have made sure it doesn't escape, but what about the raw materials of injected creativity which are now lost? It's like a dancer warming up for a dance session, and then sitting on the sofa and watching a documentary on History Channel. The effort put into the warm-up is wasted if the dancer doesn't then practice her dance routine, taking advantage of her warmed up muscles.
Creating art needs a delicate balance - we must take in enough input to keep the ideas flowing, keep our muscles warm and ready, and we must also exercise those muscles on a regular basis to be ready for the fabulous ideas when they come to us - fed on a mulch of great art. The past few weeks I had been dangerously close to overfilling the well, but a spate of productivity (driven by deadlines) in the past week, have withdrawn enough to keep the well just at three-quarters level. I believe that has earned me a curl-up in my bed with a good book - just as soon as I outline my next chapter...
Where are you on the spectrum - filling your well too little or too much?
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