Our regular novelists' group met the other day. We all seemed to be suffering from the same malaise. A sense of exhaustion, lethargy, lack of inspiration, inability to Buckle Down. Had we all mysteriously co-contracted M.E.? We began to share stories.
A cold virus which went on and on; a virus of the virtual kind which clobbered a computer and threatened to lose all its data; a printer which printed at the rate of one page per minute, and thereafter refused to print at all; ludicrously, but painfully, an infected toe. And that was just me.
Variously, we put our collective malaise down to: lack of sunshine (the Long, Hot, Barbecue Summer having materialised once again as the Short, Cold, Chilblain, Typhoon); the fact that so many people we knew were having problems and needed help and support; the downturn in the economy and its effect on the publishing business; the fact that rejections were far outnumbering encouragements.
And yes, these were certainly all factors. But as we talked, we realised that the true underlying cause wasn't M.E. It was W.E. Writer's Ennui. The simple fact was that we'd temporarily lost our inner balance. Energy going out was not being matched by energy coming in. Our writers' buckets were empty.
Some of you may be too young to remember that old Harry Belafonte song:
'There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.'
The song is circular. Liza suggests Henry mend the hole in the bucket with straw. The straw is too long, so she suggests he cut it with an axe. The axe is too blunt, so she suggests he sharpen it with a stone. The stone is too dry, so she suggests he wet it with water. And the only way of fetching water is...in a bucket. This is what W.E. feels like. Our energy seems to take us nowhere but in circles. There's a general sense of drainedness, of pointlessness. We realised we each needed to fill our individual buckets - but how?
Writing this blog post sent me to my bookshelves, and - thank God - to Julia Cameron. This woman knows her creativity. She's been there, done it, written the books. Just leafing through five of them began to remind me.
'Sanity in writing means writing with relative ease and fluidity. It means writing from a full well and not an empty one. Sanity in writing means recognising that we are a creative ecosystem and that without fresh inflow and steady outflow the pond of our inner resources can grow stagnant and stale.'
Cameron suggests that at times of W.E. we need to 'fill the well, not fish from it'. And what do we fill it with? Well, that's a very individual thing, but here are some suggestions:
- Wear colours you love and which suit you - ditto jewellery. Get a haircut. Get a massage.
Spend time with a friend whose presence nourishes you. Buy yourself a bunch of
scented flowers.
- Go to the cinema, the theatre, to a concert, an exhibition. Buy books which feel like an
indulgence and read them. Go to a theme park, a circus, a botanical garden - somewhere
you'd never normally go.
- Walk by the sea, in the country, in a forest. Lie in the sun and look at the clouds. Take a
yoga lesson, a dance class, a run.
- Say 'yes' to three invitations you'd normally say 'no' to.
Take a scan of your life and notice where the holes are, where the energy is draining out. Mend the holes in any way that's right for you. Lower the bucket into the water of your choice, and allow it to fill.
That's why 'well-being' is so named. And that's when 'hole' becomes 'whole'.


sarah fox said...

I've booked my gym class, having hair done on Friday.

Brilliant post, Susie. And it made me happy to think of that song. I used to love hearing it on the radio when I was a little girl... and loved the increasing sense of frustration and anger from the singers.

Administrator said...

Lovely post, Susie. And yes, i'm sure you are right, at times we need to spice up our lives and therefore our creativity.

I always feel rejuvenated after a holiday and i think time, however short or long, away from the keyboard, is as good as anything.

So, Susie, what do you do?

Paula Williams said...

Thanks for the inspiring post, Susie and for reminding me what a gem Julia Cameron is.
Deadlines get me writing - not writerly ones, they just send me in a panic but family ones. If I know the family are coming and my time won't be my own for a while, I become obsessed with spending every spare moment at my laptop.
But I never have a day when I don't write. I get very twitchy and grumpy otherwise.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks all.
Sam - a good question. I definitely wear colours I'm attracted to (though it's harder when feeling s****y.) And I go for a walk, which seems to move feelings though and open out some space for something new. Nature always fills me. And I ring really good friends.

Administrator said...

Yes, Susie, nature is good.

Of course, so is White Zinfandel...;)

Anonymous said...


DT said...

That's a great post Susie, and brings to mind another well-filler. Associating yourself with creative people who not only understand your process but who are also doers. (As opposed to dours!)

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks Derek - I count you among that number!
Sam, what the 'eck is White Zinfandel??

Susannah Rickards said...

Hi Susie,

Glad to see you posting this. It's hard to get going when you're in limbo on another book, so all this well-filling (lovely terminology) is perfect until it's time to write again. Ages ago I posted about Richard Long, the artist who has made filling his well a way of life, and now earns a fortune from doing so too. It does seem that the kinder we are to our writerly selves, the more productive we become.

Yesterday after writing for five hours in the library I turned down an invitation to go to a free pottery class at the library which was starting just as I'd finished, but I felt too guilty to fritter time like that so said no and went off to buy kids' school supplies. But having read your post, I've just said yes to a party invite and am off for a one hour walk up to Hampton Court Palace later...

Susie Nott-Bower said...

YAY, Susannah! Hope your party was great and your walk too!

Administrator said...

Um, it's Rose wine, Susie - nothing very intellectual:)

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Ah. I'm only familiar with Mateus Rose (which plants me firmly in the 70s).

William Wren said...

you guys have a good thing

Kirsty said...

Hey Susie, as one of the bucket filling group I was delighted to see all our rambling discussions put together in so coherent a blog. Thanks for that. I have been thinking a lot about my bucket filling, and having a friend stay for four days this week I made a point of not getting up early and getting stuck into writing before she woke up but letting myself just really enjoy the time: walks, meals in and out, long chats over coffee. Feel much more refreshed now and ready to get stuck in again. Feel a facial coming on too...

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, William.:)
And Kirstie - really glad you are feeling refreshed and ready to carry on. You deserve it!