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


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!

5 thoughts on “Filling the Well Part I: Mindless Entertainment vs. Creative Fodder”

  1. I really appreciate your courage to process this theme. It really is a life a death issue for our lives as artists but also for any co-creator person within a meaningfull lifestyle of purpose… be that family dynamics, quality of friendships or just everyday work. There is so much life to live and it is worth protecting from the imbalances of consuming things that do not replenish our well…. Well done and thank you for the reminder 🙂 Bryan

    1. Thanks for your comment, Bryan. I look forward to your insights as an artist on filling the well. Do you have a different well for your art and your life, or does it all blend together?

  2. I am motivated to create because I want my children to be creators rather than just consumers, and we all know that setting an example is better than any lesson. But, oh, the time! Where to find the time?

    Here is one of my ideas, though I’m still not sure how well this will go over:
    – I want to create a daily writing time. For the kids, this will be semi-directed, unless they have a writing project they are feeling passionate about. During that time, I will write as well.

    I’m finally reading PBH, and it may be that instead of writing time, it is project time, but my project is usually writing, so that works for me. The problem will be if the kids need a lot of help implementing their projects…

    As with exercise, I think “filling the well” is sometimes about “fake it ’til you make it” and “Act how you want to feel”- When I feel most tired and cranky, it’s actually pretty easy to change the whole mood of the family by faking cheerfulness and patience. It’s not easy and I don’t always manage, but it pretty much always works.

    1. Yes! We as parents need to create and let our children see us creating, but it’s difficult for many reasons, including lack of time as you mentioned!

      We had a daily writing time and loved it. It was only about 10-15minutes (our guys were still pre-school age) and having the habit of writing (or dictating for those who couldn’t write) was wonderful. We got so many thank-you notes written painlessly that way. We lost the habit because of summer break, and not a thank-you has been written since . . .

      Writing time, project time, “fake it ’til you make it” all sound like producing to me, and not filling the well, but sometimes free creation can fill the well even though it is “producing” – it is all still so very confusing to me! I look forward to exploring it with you all.

  3. It reminds me of my youth, when I’d take less than exciting vacation jobs of the office admin variety, and invariably come up with tunes or bass lines or poetry. I surely wasn’t trying to be creative or intentionally processing anything, but I suspect the mind had some extra capacity and processed whatever it felt like in the background.
    The flip side of that kind of playfulness was that finishing the pieces took forever – I’d get distracted by the new idea that floated by and never worked out a way to filter out the good ideas and focus on those.

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