Filling the Well Part IV: Practical Suggestions

reading

Enough theoretical discussion about filling the well! I love thinking about universal principles, but in parenting, I know I have to stop spinning my wheels and choose to act.

Let’s take a look at how one professional creative fills her well.

Writer Marissa Meyer lists several ways she fills her well between writing projects: read, watch TV and movies, exercise, try new things, do a nagging task, and relax.

As with most articles on filling the well, she makes no distinction between consuming and processing but her suggestions include both types.

Consume: Read, Watch TV and Movies

It makes a lot of sense for a writer to consume books, TV, and movies. Exposure to lots of stories can to spark ideas for her next period of production.

Process: Exercise, Relax, and Do a Nagging Task

Exercising and relaxing are great processing activities. They give the mind time to reflect and filter all it’s taken in. “Do a nagging task” is a way to free up space in the brain for better processing and allow subconscious thoughts and connections to bubble up to the surface.

Consume and Process: Try New Things

This is my favorite suggestion of Meyer’s. Try new things is an active way of consuming and a casual way of producing. It’s playing, experimenting, and tinkering. It’s taking in and processing at the same time.

Kid’s play is full of this kind of free experimentation. Kids are fearlessly creative. Maybe we parents can get some practical tips on filling the well from our kids.

But I don’t have time!

In researching filling the well I was struck by how many people mention that time is a key element.

“Time is an indispensable ingredient for a successful Artistic Career . . . creativity is born out of contentment.” –How Y.A. Fiction Works

“It requires conscious effort to set aside time for reading and viewing.” –Brooks Briggs

But how do we find the time? Should we schedule it or be spontaneous? Should we do a little every day or every week, or alternate it between periods of production, like Meyer does between writing projects?

How to find time could be the subject of a whole series of posts, but here’s a start.

1. Fill the well with our kids.

We can invite our children to join us in activities that we enjoy. We can also respond to our kids when they want to try something new or are engaged in something creative. If we can turn off our desire to check everything off the To Do list long enough to simply be with our kids, we might find that free play actually fills our well. That time can be good relationship-building time as well. I find if I can kill two birds with one stone it’s easier to make time for it.

2. Keep a list

How often do we see something we’d like to read or try but immediately dismiss because we know we don’t have time? What if we kept a list of those things and purposefully set aside an hour a week for things on the list whether our regular work is done or not?

3. Believe that it’s worth it

With so many things vying for our time, a reminder of why it’s important can help us make it a priority. It’s one thing to hear others talk about it, it’s another to experience the benefits first hand. If we have an inspiring experience with filling the well, then we could write it down and review it periodically to help us keep our conviction when other activities encroach on our time.

Next week we’ll take a break from the series on filling the well and address the question: Can we trust how our kids learn?

Filling the Well Part III: Processing

I’m a musician by trade and I love performing, yet I get irritated when my husband looks over my shoulder while I’m writing a blog post. Why do I sometimes enjoy working in the limelight and sometimes find it extremely uncomfortable?

writing alone

The reason, I’ve recently discovered, has to do with how I fill my well.  In previous posts I summarized filling the well like this:

“If we process what we consume and use those ideas for our own creative work, then we are not frittering away our time with entertainment, we are filling our creative well.”

What is processing?

No one remembers every detail of every experience. We all filter and process to some extent, consciously and subconsciously. When we process our experiences we stamp our personality on them before they’re stored in our memories.

Just as rain is filtered in the dark of the earth before it feeds the aquifer that supplies a well, we process our experiences in private before we can use them for producing something creative.

When we process we are vulnerable. We’re exploring the inner parts of our being and how we’ve been affected by experience.

That’s why I don’t like my husband watching me draft a blog post. I am tentatively baring my soul and my thoughts and am not yet ready to present them for scrutiny. Even if an observer isn’t intending to judge, having a thought exposed before its time feels like an invasion.

As a musician, performing is my work. It’s what I produce. Writing a blog post might be producing for a professional blogger, but for me, it’s mostly a way to process all that’s whizzing through my head as life happens.

The many faces of processing

There are many different ways to process. Some people need to be alone and quiet to contemplate their experiences, and some need to share the experiences with others.

Some like jogging and listening to music, and some can’t think with music on.

For many, journaling is an effective way of processing.

Some experiences allow us to process during the experience itself, like tinkering, where we receive immediate feedback and are free to play around. Or when we attend an orchestra concert where the wordless music displaces distractions and provides an inspirational background for free thought.

Engaging in an activity that requires minimal active thought frees up the mind to process without getting side-tracked. This could be true for cooking, knitting, painting, or doing jig-saw puzzles.

Can we see from the outside if someone is processing, Producing or mindlessly consuming?

These last examples illustrate the blur between producing and filling the well. A cook might play the guitar to process his day and a musician might process while cooking. We can’t tell from the outside what purpose an activity fills. We have to judge for ourselves if we have a good balance of producing and filling the well.

As a young teen I played a lot of solitaire on the computer, processing my experiences by singing made-up songs. Most people would agree that solitaire is “mindless entertainment,” but for me it wasn’t just wasting time, it was processing. (And yes, I only did that when nobody was in the house – I was a private processor even back then.)

It follows that we can’t be sure from looking at the way things appear if our children are wasting their time or doing important processing. We can’t know from the outside if they are producing for others to enjoy or just processing for themselves. This realization is a reminder for me to respect my children’s work and personal space and not make them perform or share if they don’t want to.

I realize that this isn’t the only reason why some people don’t like being observed while working, but for me, it’s an important one.

How do you process your experiences?

Filling the Well Part II: Why We Should Process Our Experiences

photoingpiano

Last week we introduced the concept of “filling the well” to nurture our creativity as individuals and as parents and how to distinguish it from “mindless entertainment” that only drains our time and energy.  Since it’s impossible to categorize any particular activity as the more or less desirable kind, I proposed the following guideline:

If we process what we consume and use those ideas for our own creative work, then we are not frittering away our time with entertainment, we are filling our creative well.

I first came across the idea of “produce what you consume” at Project-Based Homeschooling where author and educator Lori Pickert explains why she doesn’t worry about her sons’ screen time:

They don’t just passively consume — they actively produce. They take ownership over ideas and work with them, build with them. They take what interests them, what they enjoy, what they love, and they make something new. – Lori Pickert

We can never know if what we’re experiencing will ultimately prove useful to us. Often we find inspiration in the least expected places, and we won’t produce everything we consume, so for our purposes I’ve simplified the idea to “process what we consume.”

Let’s look at a few examples to see how this idea might help us.

Example 1: Mindless Entertainment

My husband observed that reading “overcoming the odds” stories never inspires him to overcome his own obstacles, they only inspire him to read more “overcoming the odds” stories. For him, such reading is not processed and turned into action, so it is of the less helpful kind.

Example 2: Filling the Well

I love reading homeschooling blogs and learning how other parents shape their family life. I feel inspired to try new things and enjoy my family more, so homeschooling blogs fill my well.

Example 3: Flooded

The internet overwhelms me. There are so many wonderful families out there doing amazing work. There are so many websites and resources that I can’t possibly take advantage of them all. If I spend too much time on homeschooling blogs I don’t enjoy my family more – I feel guilty that I’ll never be able to do all those wonderful things others are doing.

The key difference between example 1 and example 2 is whether I’ve taken the time to process what I’ve read.

A healthy rain replenishes the aquifer that supplies my well, but a flash-flood leaves the well empty.

We need to take time to process what we consume, but what exactly does “processing” look like?  Is it possible to judge from the outside if our children are processing or just consuming? We’ll take a closer look at these questions next week.

Filling the Well Part I: Mindless Entertainment vs. Creative Fodder

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Think back to when you were single. Did you dream about what your future family might look like?

I certainly did. I was brimming with ideas about education, discipline, music making and more when we started a family.

Does your family look like what you imagined back then?

If you’re like me, you’re still striving to build the family life you’d like to have.

Sadly, I can’t remember a thing about the ideas I had, except that they were so fun and creative! What happened to my wellspring of ideas for a fun family life?

There’s no simple answer, but one contributing factor is that under the demands of keeping a home and raising a family, I’ve dried up my creative “well.”

Filling the Well

As I mentioned in my last post, artist Julia Cameron uses the analogy of “filling the well” to describe how to nurture creativity. When I first heard the phrase it didn’t make sense to me. If I’m thirsty, don’t I go to the well for water? How am I supposed to get enough water to fill a well?

The well analogy made more sense once I realized that creativity is not like a gas tank.  You can’t just fill up at the creation station and drive off without writer’s block.

Creativity is much more like a well. The well taps into an aquifer, which is replenished by rain. The rain is then filtered by dirt and rocks and enters the aquifer as clean water. A well is “filled” when the aquifer is replenished.

The rain of creativity can be just about any experience we give our attention to, but we also have to process our experience like rainwater is processed through the earth.

Could this be the key difference between the mindless entertainment I so criticized and the missing element in my life that I called “fun” in my last post?

Mindless Entertainment vs. Creative Fodder

If we amuse ourselves with one thing after the next and never digest it for use in our own creative lives, we are buying into the lie of entertainment.

If we process what we consume and use those ideas for our own creative work, then we are not frittering away our time with entertainment, we are filling our creative well.

This definition oversimplifies things, but it’s a good start.

When I was single, I had time to watch families and process what I’d observed. That filled my creative well so that I was brimming with exciting ideas. Once I actually had a demanding baby, I was too busy and too brain-dead to observe and process. I only felt guilty that I wasn’t the mother I wanted to be – whatever that was. I was too inundated by well-meant advice to know.

Parenting is a creative endeavor. To do the job well we need time to rest and time to fill the well.

This realization feels monumental to me. It illuminates several mysterious areas of my life, from why I love an instrument until I start taking lessons to why I hate it when people look over my shoulder while I’m working, despite the fact that I love performing! Stay tuned for why this matters in family life!

Do you relate? Do you already use “filling the well” in your own life? Please share!

Entertainment Rethink: Don’t Forget Fun!

laughinleaves

I ended my post on the lie of entertainment by claiming I am “much, much happier” now that I’ve cut mindless entertainment from my life. That happiness comes from doing meaningful work and making progress on what matters to me. It is a deep, contented happiness.

But when I turn on the music when I am alone in the house it’s like rain on parched land. Joy and energy well up inside me and I’m inspired by the beautiful sounds.

Moments like these show me that I’ve quite forgotten the positive side of entertainment.

I’m much happier now that I’ve broken the chains of mindless entertainment. Yet entertainment plays an important function in expanding our imaginations and creative lives. It’s part of having fun, which is an important part of enjoying family life and building relationships with the people we love most of all.

I need to work on this. In rejecting expensive and time-consuming activities like going to the movies and surfing YouTube, I’ve failed to replace it with home-grown leisure and bonding activities like playing a board game or wrestling with the kids.

I tell myself: “When I get all my work done then I can add more fun to my life.” But my work will never be done!

I’ve made room in my life for work and rest but there’s a missing component of fun that I need to get back.

A reader recently wrote: “I am just learning to have fun and joy. What better thing is there for my children than having a mom who loves life?”

How encouraging to know I’m not the only one!

“What better thing is there for my children than having a mom who loves life?” – Noëmi C.

I do love life, and I’m more peaceful than I used to be because being organized means I’m not stressed about urgent matters, but my mind is still too much on doing and to little on being.

While thinking of how to have more fun, I realized a simple step might be to respond to the fun my children are having. I didn’t have to wait long to test the theory.

After dinner my daughter jumped about as I tried to wipe her hands and mouth and I started to get annoyed. I changed my focus from efficiency to fun and held the cloth up high, challenging her to jump up to it.

She had a blast, it didn’t take all that long, and her hands got wiped without harsh words. Maybe it was even one of those shared special moments that means so much to kids and is quickly forgotten by adults.

Family bonding isn’t the only reason to encourage fun in our lives. To be productive and creative we not only need rest, but also fodder for new creativity.

Julia Cameron calls this “filling the well” and it’s a concept I’ll discuss further in the next post. For now, I’ll ask you this:

Are you good at having fun with your family? If so, how do you do it? If not, what do you think blocks you?