Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

Filling the Creative Well

Zebra by George Stubbs, 1763

Ever since our move to New Haven, my creativity levels (and if we’re being honest, my emotions), have fluctuated more than normal. One day, I’m happily whipping out a new chapter for Desertera #2 or proudly revising The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) for the umpteenth (but next-to-last!) time. The next day, I’m moping around the apartment with barely the energy to lift my Kindle but plenty of energy to suck Daniel into yet another round of Netflix.

One of my creative “mentors” (unbeknownst to her, which sounds much creepier than it actually is), Joanna Penn, talks about the duality of art. Above her workstation, she has a sign that says “Have you made art today?” But she also notes that it is just as important to consume art as it is to make it. After all, if we let our creative well run dry and never take in new inspiration, how can we continue to make fresh and invigorating art, whatever our chosen medium?

the unborn
The Unborn by Anselm Kiefer, 2001

Most writers I know (and several of my non-writer friends) turn to books when they are feeling bored or uninspired. Sometimes this works for me, too. However, my reading has revolved around my book review queue lately, and while I have been enjoying those novels, it’s made reading feel more like “work” than play (one of the many reasons I’m not taking new requests).

But, even when reading is purely for my own enjoyment, it’s not always the best medium for me to gain inspiration. For whatever reason, I feel inspired to write after seeing visual art (paintings, sculptures, etc.) or listening to music. Partly, I think this is because I cannot paint or make music, much to my continual despair, and partly, I think my brain or subconscious or muse (not that I think I have one) likes to “translate” these forms of art into a new one — writing.

divination book
Divination Book (Pustaha), Batak, Sumatra, mid 18th-19th century

Yesterday, Daniel and I finally decided to get out of the house (I keep saying “house” when I should say “apartment,” and the inaccuracy is driving me nuts!) and enjoy some of New Haven’s free entertainment. First, we went to the Yale University Art Gallery, where we saw everything from ancient Greek pottery to Islamic tapestries to African statuettes to colonial American furniture to just about everything else you can imagine.

I found myself moved by several of these pieces, which you can see throughout this post. In the British art section, I found my spirit animal. In the Indo-Pacific section, I found several pieces that filled aesthetic gaps in my to-be-finished novel, Desert Child. And in the Modern Art section, I found my favorite piece of all, The Unborn by Anselm Kiefer — inspired by the Jewish myth of Lilith and meant to evoke all the lost souls resulting from The Holocaust.

shakespeare in the parkAfter the art gallery, Daniel and I drove (a rather unheard of and dangerous task on the East Coast) to Edgerton Park to see a Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night. I have read several of Shakespeare’s plays (and poems) as well as watched productions on television, but I had never actually seen a live performance of one of his plays. I’m not a theatrical critic by any means, but I will say it was a lovely production, and I really enjoyed myself.

There is just something so beautiful about humanity, the way we can manipulate materials and language and create entirely new meaning out of familiar objects. Sometimes, we just get so caught up in our lives, or in trying to create art ourselves, that we forget to stop and appreciate what others have done. Even if we don’t understand it (the art itself or its effect on us), it’s worth taking the time to just exist among what others define as beauty, if only for an hour or two, and let it sink in to our subconscious. What comes out the other side will likely be entirely different, but it will be equally beautiful and equally as worthy in the world.

So do I think my creative well has been refilled? I hope so. But the proof is in the pudding. I’m off to go make my art for the day.

What inspires you when you’re feeling “uncreative” or down? Which forms of art do you make? Which art forms do you prefer to consume?

10 thoughts on “Filling the Creative Well”

  1. I’ve found filling the well is essential. Story in, story out, is how I usually put it, though the “in” doesn’t always have to be the written word. What works best for me at a given time will vary from day to day, so I like to listen to the need and see exactly what sort of filling my well needs. Heading out to a local park to take pictures (usually of ducks) is a good place to start if I can’t figure it out at first, and I love sinking into a good period drama on TV or DVD. I almost always have music playlists associated with my WIPs, so my brain gets trained to associate that music with that story and the writing thereof. I do keep Pinterest boards of images that associate with my WIPs, but I have to keep the boards private, or I’ll lose the connection with the story. Learned that the hard way.

    Go make good art.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Music, nature and good comedy inspire my writing. Sometimes it really helps to switch off the computer, get out of the house and do something I wouldn’t normally do. There are some fascinating images in your post – it’s been too long since I’ve visited an art exhibition.

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  3. Beautifully written, Kate! I think inspiration is abundant when it’s unconsciously sought after. Most of my writing is not for myself – freelancing projects, academic writing etc – and so, I don’t usually have the time to go out and seek inspiration. But, I do believe that life is preparation for any kind of writing that you do, which is why I always have some note-taking material on me – phone, small notebook etc. A great idea can come from anywhere, while having a conversation, doing chores, commuting, and you wouldn’t know about it if you were actively looking for it. It will always come to you, not the other way around.
    Apart from writing, I used to be involved in theatre but career interests have made it difficult for me to go back to it now. I sorely, sorely miss it. I am interested in keyboards (still waiting for your pics of the Yale keyboard collection!) and have a couple of budget ones, so they’re great fun to play around with, and maybe hit upon a few notes sometimes that may turn into “something”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like to keep an inspiration journal as well. It is always good to be prepared for those spontaneous bursts of inspiration. And yes – the Yale keyboard collection! I’ll figure out which building it is in and snap a a few pictures if I can during Daniel’s orientation this weekend.

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  4. Recharging my well consists of reading, music, regular long walks in the early morning hours, making time to view live performances of classical music, dance forms, and good cinema. And when my mind feels really full of an interesting subject, I just sit and write articles, completing it in one or few sittings…best wishes… Raj.

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  5. When I’m feeling like my well has run dry, I get outside. Preferably someplace with lots of trees and few people.

    I also find it helpful to have a conversation with a thoughtful child (as a mom and a teacher, there are lots of those around me). They see the world differently, and can help me do the same.

    Emotionally evocative music in languages I don’t speak or without words often inspire my words to start flowing again.

    Did you enjoy Twelfth Night? I think I’ll get to see a production this winter. I’ve never seen it live, and I’m excited to get to. (I’m a bit of a Shakespeare nut)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did enjoy Twelfth Night. All of the acting was great, but the actor who played Malvolio was especially hilarious. The set was pretty sparse, which I like, because I enjoy letting my imagination fill in part of the scenery. Overall, it was a fantastic night!


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