The first time I heard the phrase “Filling the Well” as it relates to creativity was in college. I was part of our school’s Improv and sketch group, Theatre Strike Force. One of our members, Lynette, had started a smaller team within to work together on skits that educated as well as entertained. It is important to fill the well, she told us. Creativity comes from an amalgamation of what we take in. We can’t write good social justice skits if we only lived in our sheltered lives, and we couldn’t expect our brains to give us new ideas if we only had the same tired mental reserves. This made sense to me.

I have also heard the phrase among groups of writers, where taking time to not write, rather to experience things, is as critical to writing as “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard.” I have always envisioned the well in this adage to be a place where one goes to get water. The well can become dry if you try to pull on it too much, taking out more water than is available. Before you can draw more, you have to fill the well, so there is more to draw.

This didn’t make sense to me.

Ground Well in a green field

A water well get’s it’s bounty from underground water, from within the earth itself. Water isn’t  added to a well, big tanker trucks of H2O rolling in and refreshing the supply. The idea of taking time to fill my mental well, to take in other media, go on walks, interact with people, and just take an opportunity to experience and to just be didn’t fit my concept of “well.” I loved the sentiment, but in my mind, it was a phrase that had been created and repurposed, and it’s only true meaning was now the one that referred to mental or physical reserves, and taking the time to slow down from the hurried pace of modern life, and take the time to live in it, and see how other people saw and engaged with the world.

Earlier this month I had an epiphany, and the phrase now makes much more sense to me. Rather than a stone ringed hole in the ground with a pulley and bucket, imagine an ink well. I’m slightly embarrassed that this connection took almost 25 years, (two of which I’ve sported my newest tattoo, a feather pen). As a writer, it feels like a natural image. One uses a pen and ink to write. With quill pens, and some fountain pens, the author must dip the nib into an ink well to draw up ink to be able to put words to page.

And ink wells have limited reserves. You can only write so many words before the well is empty, and before you can go on creating, and putting ideas down, you must fill those reserves.

Old glass inkwell with dried ink within
image from the Canadian Museum of History

I feel, lately, like I’ve been adding ink to my creative well in excess. I have spent so much time consuming the works of others, though, admittedly, I’ve not drawn so much upon personal experience to gain creative resources. Because, say it with me, “then COVID happened.” I have consumed so many books, mainly via audio formats, but my lived experiences are few, and not varied. And I feel like in some aspects, the well is overflowing, and in others, it is as dry as it was this time last year.

I want to take some time, make sure I’m doing things that add to the experience part of my creative well, though many days this task feels insurmountable. More importantly, I want to take some time to take what I’ve drawn in over the last year and more, and sit with it, digest it, and rather than using it only for distraction from difficult times, transform it into something new. To use it to spark my mind, and give back to the world what it has so generously given.

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