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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

08 January 2008

Filling the well

For two years, my mother-in-law had not done any quilting, not since her knee-replacement surgeries. Still, when she and my father-in-law visited in December, she was glad to go with me to check out the nearby quilting stores, which I had not yet taken time to explore. We found three near my house, with quite different collections of fabrics for sale. (What a luxury, after having only the Quilt Cottage in New Orleans—a great store with great service, but small, and open only limited hours since Katrina.)

My MIL bought some fabric and a book and for the first time in two years was eager to start a new quilt. And she did, right after the holidays, using a pattern in the book she bought.

I too bought some fabric—two cat fabrics for my cat fabric collection, a multi-toned fabric with a luscious hand, and fabric dotted with tiny fleurs de lis. And I too was inspired. After my in-laws left, I dug out blouse patterns suitable for the fleur de lis fabric, and I spent a day unpacking my sewing equipment and setting up my sewing space.

If only filling my creative well for writing were as easy!

Ideas gush forth from many of my writing friends; I have occasional drips and dribbles. Perhaps my paying job (medical writer) is too similar: My brain has to generate so many ideas for articles that maybe it balks when pressed for more.

It’s not that my brain lacks what it takes. After going to a Romance Writers of America convention, reading an interesting book of history, having a retreat with my critique group, or taking off for a few days away from home by myself, my brain brims with ideas, and I must write fast because they are flowing so quickly. But otherwise, ideas lurk below the surface like fish in a frozen-over pond, flickers of shadow and color, slippery and elusive.

Do ideas come easily to you? What do you do to fill your well?


Charles Gramlich said...

when I was younger my mind brimmed constantly with ideas. I'm talking about in my teens and twenties. But when I really began to work I found them harder to come by and it was because, I think, that I would be just about mentally "done" by the end of a work day. I too find that when I have a few days off and can read or watch something interesting, that ideas come rushing forth. Unfortunately, I often barely get started on writing them before work resumes

virtual nexus said...

I came across a parallel comment to the science writing re journaling that some writers find that the act of journaling drains too much creative energy out of writing (though others find it is a resource).

Shauna, I'm sure you'll have come across this before, but I have been reading about creativity quotient in the past year, and looking into the relaxed alpha states that heighten and release creativity.

They can be cultivated. Concentrated functioning related to facts probably falls under beta states, which are faster rhythms and less conducive to right brain thinking.

The theory is that any activity which induces alert but relaxed alpha states (oddly enough quite a few begin with S,like swimming, showering, surfing etc )enhances creative ideas and association.

I find the type of focus needed for oil painting takes me into alpha;
a shift into scenic pursuits, notice it when I'm manipulating photographs - and from a writers perspective, exercises involving meditation (some I picked up during counselling training) provokes it - among other things!...long reply,
area I'm interested in!

Shauna Roberts said...

I can certainly sympathize, CHARLES. I take it you've found no ways to make the ideas come when they're reluctant?

JULIE, very interesting comments! I should start meditating again. That was one of the things that fell by the wayside when we started putting our lives back together after Katrina. (Of all times, that was one when we really needed to meditate, but it was hard enough to find time to get the absolute necessities done.) I'm not real familiar with the literature you're talking about, but I definitely know the feel of those different states you talk about.

Lisa said...

Gosh, I could have written the comment Charles did. I have been whining ever since the Christmas and New Years downtime that work is not leaving my brain any time to wander to generate ideas -- or maybe it's more appropriate to say that without downtime, my unconscious/subconscious (one day one of you smart people need to clarify the difference for me) doesn't have room to "show" me things.

Going with the "S" thing that Julie mentioned, Shauna I'll bet sewing induces similar states to showering, swimming, etc.

For me, it has become clear that the thing that I need for creativity to bubble is free time.

Shauna Roberts said...

LISA, it looks as if this problem is more common than I thought. I need more than just free time; I need focused time free from the distractions of normal life. (What should I make for dinner? Will my client send those pages to edit today or tomorrow? Uh oh, the cat's throwing up. Is that project due in two weeks or three? and so on.)

You're right—sewing is one of the "S" things. For me, so is digging in the dirt. (Can't think of a synonym that starts with "s".) Put a trowel or shovel in my hand, show me some dirt, and I'm quickly blissed out.

Lisa said...

How about "sowing"?

Shauna Roberts said...

LISA, I have to admit, I sometimes dig holes even when I have nothing to plant, just for the joy of digging holes and seeing what I find.

Lisa said...


I feel like Henny Youngman -- I got a millions of 'em :)

Shauna Roberts said...

"Shoveling" is a good one, LISA. "Scooping" and "spading" too. (finally got out my thesaurus)

Lana Gramlich said...

I actually enjoyed writing when I was younger & had most of a fantasy novel written in my 20s. When my ex smashed my obsolete computer, losing me the entire novel, I pretty much gave up writing altogether. Considering that I'm a better artist & have difficulty selling originals for even a measley $20, I think I made the right choice. Actually, at present I'm considering quitting the painting, too.

Shauna Roberts said...

LANA, have you considered boosting your prices considerably? Some artists believe that the price influences the perceived value. Your painting with an $80 price tag is seen as higher quality than the same painting with a $20 price tag. And so, this theory goes, people are more willing to buy it.

Theory aside, if you think your paintings aren't worth much, there's no reason for the customer to think they're worth much either.

virtual nexus said...

Had to smile about the S words - sewing was one; any pleasantly repetitive focussed act tends to induce alpha; relaxation and downtime in and of itself isn't quite the same thing, though.

Bernita said...

When the well is dry, I do other things, mostly physical, uncomplicated things like gardening.

Lana Gramlich said...

Shauna; Yes. That was a bust, too. The only way I've ever successfully "moved" my art was to give it away for free. Ultimately prices & qualities aren't what matters in art anymore, anyway. Few people these days have any extra money to spend past rent & bills & if they have kids, that's where it goes. Considering we're on the edge of a recession, I don't think it's going to change any time soon.

Shauna Roberts said...

Thanks, BERNITA, for stopping by and telling who you do.

LANA, sorry to hear you'd already tried my idea without success. Hope things turn around for you. Humans had art and music long before they had pottery or beer and I truly believe they're necessary for the soul (art and music, not pottery and beer). It saddens me when people think they can live without them or they buy generic stuff like pretty but vapid landscapes.

Carleen Brice said...

Scrubbing dishes or the tub really helps. But so does walking. For some reason, I need to move around when I'm imagining. If I sit at the computer before I have an idea, it struggles to come forth. But if I pace or clean or get outside for a walk, I can craft the scene in my head and then go right to the computer and type it up.

Shauna Roberts said...

CARLEEN, sounds like you and Bernita have brains that work alike. I've used housework and walking to organize small magazine articles or to think up a clever article title. I haven't tried it with fiction because I'm usually trying to do come up with something more complicated and I want to take notes. But after reading your note, I think I'll try it with a mini tape recorder.

Sphinx Ink said...

Shauna, your post and the comments on it reinforce the idea (which occurred to me a couple of months ago) that I need to turn to a physically creative activity--e.g., sewing, which I stopped doing years ago, or drawing, which I never seriously pursued--to fill my creative well for writing. I've noticed that most of the productive writers of my acquaintance also have other creative outlets, often things far removed from writing but creative nonetheless.

Filling the well via one method obviously bears fruit in other methods. Thanks.

Steve Malley said...

Ideas are like bright-colored minnows: slippery, elusive, and colorful yes, but also too small to make a meal.

I try not to focus on having a creative idea to work on so much as being open and available when those flashes happen during the work. It takes the 'is my idea good enough' pressure off and sets my mind on the task at hand.

Actually, I've been meaning to do a blog post on this topic too...

cs harris said...

Shauna, I didn't know you sewed. I never progressed beyond making doll clothes, myself. But yes, walking and working in the garden seem to fill my well. Also, just doing something different, to shock me out of my normal way of looking at things.

Shauna Roberts said...

SPHINX, I agree that these things stimulate creativity, but I think they help mainly by keeping the creative juices flowing and keeping the idea machinery from getting rusty (what an awful mixed metaphor). I do sometimes get writing ideas when doing nonwriting creative things. Mostly, though, when I sew, it stimulates ideas for other sewing projects, and when I plan a garden, it stimulates ideas for gardens in other parts of the yard.

STEVE, I look forward to your post on this subject.

CANDICE, mostly I quilt or make household items such as curtains. Sometimes I make clothes, but only when I find a really worthy and unusual fabric. One can get such great clothes bargains at online sales that it's cheaper to do that than buy fabric for clothes.