I hear writers and other artists talk at times about needing to “refill the well.” I’ve said it myself. Every creative person sometimes feels drained, as if the well-spring of imagination inside them has run dry. I think there are two primary reasons why this happens. I call them “Brain Burn” and “Trench Warfare.”
Simple physical fatigue will certainly drain the well. When I’m really tired, every action is an effort I don’t want to make, and writing is definitely an effort. And, fatigue can be mental as well as physical. My work as a teacher isn’t physically taxing but requires a lot of mental activity, and there are plenty of times I describe myself as “brain burned.” It doesn’t last long. As soon as I get a break from the semester grind, my mind almost always fills immediately with ideas. Or, I might need just a day or two of vegging and sleeping before the “well” starts to spill over.
But sometimes refilling the well seems to take longer. Sometimes, even when I have a break, and I have rest, the ideas and the language won’t come. At those times I know it’s because I’m in a rut, caught up in the mental equivalent of “trench warfare.” My mind has become static rather than active. My thoughts are traveling familiar paths, and I’m a little bored because I know exactly what’s around every corner. Sleep won’t fill this well. But experience will.
Whenever my well is blocked because I’m locked in trench warfare with myself, I try to shake things up a little. Not in my life necessarily, but in my head. I read stuff I don’t normally read, or something in a genre I haven’t revisited in a long time. I watch movies I would not normally choose. I listen to new music, as long as it’s loud and energizing. I try to feel new things and think new thoughts.
If I do need a change in life, it means going to places I haven’t been too before, seeing alternate landscapes, hearing different people talk. There are occasions when I have to physically walk unfamiliar paths, to wonder again what is around the next corner.
Engaging in trench warfare is a lot more insidious than being brain burned. You can sleep the latter away; the former you have to attack. The only way to break such a stalemate is to charge against it. Fortunately, unlike with real trench warfare, you’re not likely to get blown to bits in such a charge. About the worst that can happen is some discomfort at losing the familiar straightjacket you’ve been wearing. That discomfort will pass. Believe me. And you will be the better for having experienced it.
And if you’re wondering why I haven’t been around the blogs for a while, my trench war has turned into a charge. I’m out in no man’s land right now, and I’m not looking to hide. I can feel the tide at my back, the well filling. As a famous general once said, “I shall return.”