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?

5 thoughts on “Filling the Well Part III: Processing”

  1. Most of my processing occurs in the form of note/brain dumps in a spiral notebook. Nothing at all like a diary, because it’s usually just lists and more lists, often times the same lists written over and over as I think about things.

  2. I see in George MacDonald’s fiction a good deal of respect for those who work with their hands, like shoemakers, and much less — even pity — for those, like accountants, whose minds are not left free during working hours to think and to process.

    Writing is both what I produce (though I’m not a professional) and how I process. I often don’t really understand my own thoughts until I’ve written them down, even if it’s only “mental writing” that doesn’t appear anywhere it can be seen.

    But I also do another kind of processing through apparently mindless entertainment — thought I’ve mostly transitioned from games like solitaire to games like DuoLingo that serve an additional purpose. But the point of this kind of processing, whatever vehicle I use, is that it stills my temporarily-unproductive “higher-level” mind — which may have gotten itself into a hamster-wheel rut, or be overwhelmed by too many thoughts, too fast — and allows processing to go on at another, less conscious, level. I can usually — not always — discern this kind of processing from wasteful entertainment because I emerge from it more inspired and productive than I went in.

  3. A lot of my unconscious processing happens while dishwashing or biking to work. Long, solo car trips can also serve that purpose.

  4. This is such a helpful way to think about things! I will observe and reflect and ponder these things for myself and my kids and my husband. (Just off the top of my head – when Jon was working away from home, I knew that he’d had a particularly stressful day when he came home and plugged in the old Nintendo and played Mario for an hour.)

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