Filling the well – inspiration, creativity and productivity

The idea of ‘filling the well’ is one of the best things that I took away from working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (Pan, 1994).

It is years since I worked through the book. I remember making myself all sorts of commitments at the time. The one that has stayed with me is ‘filling the well’. If I’m drawing from the well then I need to make sure it isn’t going to run dry. I also need to make sure I can get to it. That’s pretty obvious. It makes sense.

Part of me would like to hunt out the notebook where I worked through Cameron’s exercises. I’ve no idea of where to begin to look for it now, though. It’s too long since I’ve seen it. There might be a chance that I jettisoned it in one of my (thankfully rare) I-must-not-hoard-this-clutter purges.

To be honest, I don’t need the notebook in my hand to remember what is in it. Especially for the ‘filling the well’ exercise. I know what, who and where I identified as keeping the well I draw from fresh.

Why am I thinking about it now?

This has all come to mind because this is the week of the medieval and early modern studies symposium that I try to get to each year. Many of the topics are often out of my direct area of expertise. Sometimes it’s hard to shift my schedule around, but it’s always worth the effort. It is one of the events that come up that I move my life around to be able to get to.

While most of my commitments from ‘the way’ have slipped into (fond) memory – morning pages and regular ‘artist dates’ used to be regular features of my creative life – making the time and space in my life to get to the symposium has stayed.  It is part of my filling the well.

The symposium brings together a lot of the elements of the list I came up with for the exercise: what – medieval and early modern literature (and now history), where – there are some places which help me focus on getting down to work, the UWA campus (and the general area of the river and King’s Park)  is one, and  who – my original list included individuals but also acknowledged how being a part of a community of writers is important to me, the symposium reflects (and creates) a community of scholars and writers that I enjoy being a part of.

Invariably, my understandings are deepened or my awareness extended by the papers given and conversations had at the symposium. There will always be something new that I will want to look up, even if just to satisfy my curiosity or find a point of clarification. I find links to my work – academic and creative – that I would never have thought of or, if I did, would have come about much later. Sometimes I find that I walk away with a bunch of ideas and images that will end up in a poem or a story. It all makes me happy.

In the past couple of days I’ve had the good fortune to participate in a master class on chivalry and the first day of a symposium on emotions and warfare in writing in the medieval and early modern period. It’s all been fascinating. I’m looking forward to today’s programme – most of which will be completely new to me. There are some poems being discussed which I’ve looked at a bit in the past – Andrew Marvell’s ‘Upon Appleton House’ I’ve thought about but done nothing with, the Alliterative Morte Arthure I’ve dipped into – but the other papers look like new territory. I can’t wait.

Not in the least distracting
Not in the least distracting

 A funny thing about the well

As I’ve been writing this a new idea has come to me for a spot of research (that I possibly should leave until later, because I already have a few projects on the go). I think I’d like to look at moments in medieval romances to see when knights ask for water. There are a couple I can think of where they stop in mid-fight to drink – or ask to be allowed to drink. I wonder how much work has already been done on that.

Perhaps there’s a poem/story that I want to work, too. But it will have to wait until later…


The flutter-by effect – reflecting on my writing process

Years ago, I called one of my sisters ‘grasshopper’ in response to a question. In turn she called me ‘butterfly’ and then at some point – I’d obviously been a little scattered and not as focussed as (she thought) I could have been – I became ‘flutter-by’. I like to think it is a term of endearment rather than frustration. Sometimes it is, often … I just know that it isn’t.

The thing is, I know that there is an element (a whole table of elements probably) of truth my being called ‘flutter-by’ by my nearest and dearest.

malachite butterfly
Beautifully ragged … I hope it can fly

Is there a (fun) collective term for notebooks?

I quite like collective nouns. I love that you could have a rabble or a kaleidoscope or rainbow of butterflies. I’ve lived in a town where there was more or less a plague of butterflies for the first few weeks I was there. They were certainly a rabble.

(I won’t go into the plague of cockroaches that followed a few months latter. It is the stuff of nightmares. By the by, the collective noun for roaches is intrusion. That’s just about as perfect as you can get.)

When I tidied my desk last weekend I was struck by the sheer number of notebooks that had accumulated. There were stacks. It’s the right collective noun, but it just isn’t fun.

Perhaps I could suggest a drafting of notebooks or even a scrawl of notebooks? I’m actually prepared to just go it alone and start referring to having a scrawl of notebooks. – I’m sure collective nouns are still collective nouns if there’s just the one person who uses a particular term as the collective?

Flicking through some of the scrawl, I realised that I’m certainly prepared for any paper shortage that might hit suburban Perth. I also realised I have a plenty of work that I need to review, edit and commit to settling on as being finished. To be honest, I knew this already. Having the work in and out of my hands just made it real.

The work I need to complete ranges from poems and short stories to a couple of articles and reviews that I meant to finish months ago. I have – in short – been as blithe as my ‘flutter-by’ moniker would suggest. In fact, the  fifth sense of the OED (online) entry on blithe cuts a shade deep. (I suppose that’s the risk you run when you decide to do a quick check of the appropriateness of a word before you commit to it. I was more on the money than I first thought.)

New deadlines come in all the time …

In the end, I had to corral the notebooks into boxes. My plan is to work through each box systematically to review and sort the contents. My hope is that by ‘dealing with’ grouped units of books – one book at a time – I will be more effective than trying to sort the whole lot at once. It will also ensure I don’t fritter too much time away at the expense of work that I know I need to be doing now.

The danger – of course – is that it will now be the boxes that multiply exponentially.

Escaping the pinboard

In the end, what I know I need – as an inveterate flutter-by – is, I hesitate to say, pin myself down. But that seems a shade too violent, and not a lot of fun. So, I’m hoping that my approach to my writing/editing to-do list will help.

In no particular order ... but that red card looks urgent
In no particular order … but that red card looks urgent

Image of butterfly from mcamcamca

Starting out – the first step

I’ve been thinking about writing, and writing about thinking (not to mention thinking without writing, writing without thinking) for longer than I can remember. I thought it might be nice to do some of that out loud. In the sense that posting static text to a screen might be out loud.

So, here I am, on a sunny but cold day in Perth diving into the blogosphere with a space where I plan to write and think out loud about topics that might range from fourteenth century England to modern day Australia.


notebook and pencil
All I need