When your Creative Well has Run Dry, What Then?

This is a post for all those creatives out there that can find their eyes roaming playing comparison games. This post is for writers that worry their wells of creativity have run dry. This post is for the parents and the colleagues who show up day-by-day to work hard and love well. Remember friends, that art — whether on the page or in the flowers you plant or the deals you broker or the little people you love — comes from abundance. 

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I said something on Twitter  that made me stop and think. And made others stop and think. It was this:

Write bravely. Use up all those good ideas now, don’t save them. There will be more. Art comes from abundance.

The idea came in response to Glennon Doyle Melton’s post on “Forever Tries“; she writes about being present either with her family or her writing and: “ninety percent of the time I have to ignore these insistent ideas and allow them to slip away and pass on to someone more available.” She emphasizes that we can’t hoard ideas for the “perfect” time and need to be fully present where we are now. It’s a great help to those of us pulled in creative and domestic directions.

Glennon’s message fights against our modus operandi, which is to hoard ideas, worried that we won’t have enough for “next time” or that someone else will come and say the same thing in a smarter, cooler, hipper way and we’ll be left creating mediocre work in a little corner. Art dies in empty corners.

But hoarding is always a symptom of inner scarcity. 

Afraid of insignificance, we live lives grasping after creativity, chasing beauty, trying to catch up with it. We focus on beauty as an end rather than a means. We’re afraid that if we were really generous with our art (or talent or time — insert here whatever you give to the world) that someone else will get the credit. Someone else will profit. Someone else will run away with the show or hurt us because we’ve been vulnerable and already given so much away.

We’ve given ourselves away and there is nothing left.

But art comes from abundance.

Art is overflow. It cannot be the end in itself, or we’ll find ourselves burnt out, used up and chasing trends. And in the process we’ll not only lose beauty, we’ll lose ourselves.

There are plenty of metaphors: Sarah Mae writes about returning to a well, Ann Voskamp writes about exhaling and relief (things that only happen when you’re filled up) and Kara Tippetts, even as she was dying, writes about the Big Love of Jesus that always brings back a return as we are poured out.

Where’s your well? Do you run to be filled up from God and others? Do you know how to rest? Or do you have so many holes in your bucket that any water poured in just leaks right out? Do you carve out time to create in response to this great big, beautiful, mysterious world that we get to be a part of? Or do you run around using productivity and To Do lists as an indicator of your worth?

I’ll have nothing to offer others if I demand that beauty is meant to satisfy only me. My words will not bring relief or hope to the weary and broken if I’m focused on myself.

So I’m reminding myself, along with you, art comes from abundance. It’s a pouring out what’s been poured in.

Part of being “scary brave” means giving up and pouring yourself out. It means not knowing. See, scary, huh?

So today, I’m choosing to be brave.

I’m choosing to be countercultural in little daily ways: by being filled up and resting; by reminding myself  that creation in response to Beauty is enough in itself. 

Here’s what that looks like for me as a writer:

  • I might not know if the words will come when I sit down to write. But I’ll do it anyway.
  • I may not know if my generosity is received well or is used against me. But I’ll do it anyway.
  • The stories I tell may falter and flail and no one may listen. But I’ll do it anyway.
  • I may never write something as well or that resonates as deeply as I’ve done before. But I’ll do it anyway.
  • I may never make it big or publish books. But that doesn’t mean what I do today has no value. I’ll do it anyway.
  • I’ll help others tell their messy, beautiful stories. It might not make the difference I hope for. But I’ll do it anyway.

Because beauty was never supposed to be about you or me. C. S. Lewis captures it so succinctly:

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.” —The Weight of Glory

Beauty and art are vessels for longing, for desire, and ultimately, for glory. 

But we keep turning them into the goal or trying to swallow up glory, as if it were a food that could actually satisfy our deep, deep hunger for meaning.

Art comes from abundance.

Today, I’m choosing abundance: to make habits of those things that are restorative. I’ll let you in on a little secret: abundance comes from very mundane disciplines, not in the lightning strike of inspiration. For me that means: more reading, more laughing around the table with good friends and good wine, more discipline in cleaning my house and reading the Word that brings life. It means treasuring little moments of inspiration but not serving the Muse like my taskmaster. It means knowing that I can rest because ultimately this beauty is not about me or what I can create. And my words are only a vessel through which glory might perhaps deign to travel, pointing back to its source.

I can only create to the extent that I’m filled from a well that never dries up, where there is always more and more grace — even in and against my striving.

What would it take for you to live an abundant life? What would abundance look like with the freedom to stretch and exhale and know that it’s all okay: the hard, the good, the “shitty first draft”?* I’d love to hear your comments. 

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*Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

*This post was originally published at Circling the Story

 

Ashley Hales

Ashley Hales

Writer and Editor at aahales.com
Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. But she spends most of her time chasing around her four children and helping her husband plant a church. She writes at AAHales.com and loves to make friends on Twitter.
Ashley Hales

Latest posts by Ashley Hales (see all)

  • Oh girl, this is right where I am living! I let myself write a shitty rough draft last night when I have been dragging my feet trying to make it perfect in my head first. I can’t seem to stop this “it’s never good enough” mentality…but I’m trying!

    • Good for you! I resist the messiness of the process a lot too. I keep going back to Anne Lamott talking about how publication and “making it” isn’t the thing, but maybe it’s in the writing. Maybe the writing will save you.

  • Yes, putting those ideas out there, squandering them recklessly, is an act of faith — No need to hoard if you believe that God will provide the next amazing thought when it’s needed.

    • Oh I love how you put it Michele — squandering recklessly our gifts. Maybe that’s how they’re meant to be sowed — liberally without calculation and platform-building.

  • Today I FINALLY sat back down at a book I started years and two chapters ago. I’ve been journaling, considering buying Scrivener, brainstorming ideas with my kids, worrying if I should outline it first, worrying if I should just let it go and keep blogging instead…everything but writing the novel. I reminded myself I recently committed to writing for God and no one else, and I wrote chapter three today; it was all there waiting for me to see it and write down what I saw. Love your posts, Ashley…

    • Yay! Cheering you on, Amanda!! Good work. I totally avoid the writing, too, even though I know it brings life. Thrilled for you. And thanks as always, for your encouragement.

      • You’re welcome, and I’m glad if you are encouraged. Your writing does the same for me.

  • Rea

    “I may never make it big or publish books. But that doesn’t mean what I do today has no value. I’ll do it anyway.” I’ve been fretting a lot over this lately. It’s a bit entangled with the question of “Well, what do you do?” Answer “Well, I work a few hours a week as an administrative assistant, and a few hours a week as a bookkeeper.” But what I really want to say is “I’m a writer.” It’s what fills me. It’s what makes me shake with fear and exhale a sigh of relief. But what I write is small, insignificant, never likely to turn into a book. Maybe seeing the value in even our small, insignificant words is the key to being able to say with confidence “I’m a writer.” Now, back to the shitty first draft of the poem I started last week.

    • Writing gives you life and you write? Then yes! You’re a writer. I hate that so much of our worth is tied up into what we get paid for. I’d love to hear characteristics of what excites people more than their positions. Thanks for being here Rea.

  • You have penned the words that reflect so much of where I’m at. I’m so glad to know others experience the same tension that I do, especially having an empty well. The idea that art comes from abundance is so smart..I hadn’t really had this perspective. I will be thinking about how well hydrated my well is. Thank you for helping me think through some of this today.

  • SUCH GOOD STUFF. “Art dies in empty corners.” Yes–and I love the portrait of faithfulness and generosity you’ve painted here. It’s such a way to live, this expansiveness, kindness, beauty-making. Love this, Ashley.

    • Thanks friend. So glad we get to search for and make the beauty alongside each other.

  • Sucking in some deep breaths here. This week I have felt the words gone or a jumbled mess. Someone told me to read more because that helps. I’m reading. Every day, good stuff but…So I write to write, to force something on paper for my eyes only, not worrying about blog posting. The timing to read this is perfect for me Ashley. It hit a place in me that I know has been a struggle. Thank you, thank you. I’m glad you wrote “anyway”.

    • So glad this met you when you needed it Debby. I do find that reading and self-care do really help; journaling helps too. (Sometimes for me that helps take the pressure off).

  • “So I’m reminding myself, along with you, art comes from abundance. It’s a pouring out what’s been poured in. Part of being “scary brave” means giving up and pouring yourself out. It means not knowing.” It is scary to pour yourself out but if we keep it all inside how will God use us to bless others? I love how you push scarcity aside. “I’m choosing abundance: to make habits of those things that are restorative.” Ashley, you inspire me and I want to choose abundance, too! Blessings to you!

    • Thank you Gayl. Choosing abundance is hard work because it often means saying no to good things or stopping myself from operating on auto-pilot. Thanks, as always, for being here.

  • I love the permission to let ideas go, that those that trickle away won’t be our last. Thank you!

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