Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer


filling the well

The Idea Factory

blogSometimes I feel like my idea factory is about to be shut down. Like all the workers have gone on strike due to poor working conditions. They’re demanding higher wages. And shorter working days. I wish I could help them.

It’s times like these I’m grateful to have other writer friends to lament to.

And just like they say – when you’re blocked, you should write about being blocked. When you can’t think of an idea, you should write about thinking up ideas. Well, no one says that. I just made it up. But, I think it’s legit. I’m going to write my way out of the fear of never coming up with another good idea. So, here goes.

The first thing any writer (or artist, or songwriter, really anyone that needs ideas) should have is some place to keep notes. It can be special (a beautiful, leather-bound journal) or ordinary (a file folder full of scribbled-on napkins). The point is that all these scribblings are kept together. So you can locate and refer to them.

I used to keep a folder full of handwritten notes, back when my notes were handwritten. Now, I use a handheld voice recorder given to me by a friend. I just have to make sure I transcribe these notes onto the computer in full detail when it’s fresh. Otherwise, I’ll have no idea what I was talking about. Like the old recording I recently found with the words “bus,” “bad mood” and “whispering.” I’m sure it was brilliant at the time, but now it means nothing.

Any form of media can usually get the wheels turning again. Think pop culture: books, movies, television, magazines, music. There’s many a movie I’ve blogged about in the past and one post “all about books.” Literally. That’s what it was called.

I make time for TV and magazines. I consider it research. I’m not saying you can justify a subscription to Us Weekly – unless all you write about is fluff. But I do check out The Huffington Post and 60 Minutes from time to time for that purpose. And Downton Abbey is just a blog waiting to happen. Something about women’s rights and British high society. It’s still brewing.

Eavesdrop on conversations. People watch at the airport. It’s all “filling the well” as author Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way. Sound bites and snippets for nuggets of future genius. In fact, Ms. Cameron encourages students to take themselves on “Artist Dates” to continually fill the well of inspiration. And an Artist Date can be to any place that nourishes your creativity, even the unexpected places. Treat yourself to a museum, garden or park. How about a diner or coffeeshop? Even a cemetary.

The last place you can look for ideas is in your own head. It’s filled with a lifetime of memories that may spin off into your next great idea. Maybe you just need to open an old photo album or yearbook to remind yourself. And what’s not there, your mind can make up. Particularly in your sleep, so write down your dreams.

As for me, I’ve got to go make some notes. The workers have returned and my factory’s back in business.

Keeping It Interesting

I discovered recently that Frankie is timid around men. And he doesn’t like the smell of fish. As a result, he really tries to avoid men who smell like fish. So, you’d think he’d be less than thrilled to spend a recent morning on the Jacksonville Beach pier, right? Wrong. He was beside himself.

I walked him there in my power chair to meet a couple of friends one weekday morning. He was tugging at the leash as soon as we turned south instead of north. He didn’t care where we were going. Just that we’d never been there before. When we reached the paved walkway next to the dunes, his pace quickened and he weaved back and forth, trying to take in all the strange scents simultaneously. Gulls called overhead, people whizzed by on bikes and rollerblades and the breeze carried in the smell of salt and Tropicana off the beach.

Dogs are allowed on the pier if they’re service dogs. Frankie is enrolled in classes with a trainer who can certify him as such, so technically, it wasn’t a lie. Frankie is a service dog-in-training now. But I have to admit, little Frankie looks nothing like those well-behaved helpers, particularly bounding ahead of the wheelchair with no special vest and barking at birds.

He was so excited that even being approached by smelly men with coolers full of fish didn’t faze him for long.  After our outing, his little legs carried him most of the way home, probably running on pure adrenaline.

Later that week, my writing coach gave us a suggestion that rang especially true. She said – do something new. As writers, we need to fill the creative well with new images, scents and tastes so that we can call these up in our writing, keeping things from sounding stale or cliche.

And non-writers need this mental stimulation too. Are you like me, always ordering the same thing off the menu? Mix it up! Try something different. Or better yet, go to a restaurant you’ve never been to before. Take in a museum exhibit on your lunch hour. Or just drive a different way to work. Our lives are so filled with routine that it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.

Remembering this advice, I took Frankie to the park the following week. We were rewarded when a mama duck and at least seven little ducklings crossed our path. True, Frankie was excited enough just by the Mallards waddling by, but I was happy to see the babies. We sat for a long time in the butterfly garden, Frankie attempting to dig in the mulch while I watched a Swallowtail flutter around. It was calming and it broke routine. That butterfly and those ducklings are now deep in the well of my creative subconscious just waiting to be called on. And Frankie’s happy. To him I’m just keeping it interesting.

Stocking the Pond

“Did you write today?” a well-meaning, non-writer friend will ask me.  This brings all my neuroses and self-doubt to the surface.  My writing coach and mentor has learned to answer the question with,”You mean, did I type today?”  Brilliant.

You see, typing and writing are two different things.  Typing is sitting down to hit letters on a keyboard.  Writing involves thinking.  It can be done anywhere, even miles from a keyboard.  Most folks are of the opinion that writers should write every day.  That’s why I love this distinction.  I don’t type every day.  When a project I’m working on is going particularly well, I do.  But otherwise, I may be doing any number of things.  Like the laundry, walking the dog or re-organizing my fridge.  But, I’m thinking about my writing all the time.  Mulling over a phrase, searching for a word, dreaming up an ending.  I’m here to say: that counts.

Also, the answer will probably come to you in the shower.  Or driving.  Or washing the dishes.  Doing anything routine or repetitive allows the mind to stop thinking logically, or “how-to,” and start thinking creatively.

And the best way to ensure that the perfect phrase, word or ending comes to you is to stock the pond.  I’m talking about “filling the well,” but that’s might be considered a cliche’ to people working in the creative arts, so I’ll use the less often heard “stocking the pond.”  The idea, as explained by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way (if you’re a regular reader, you know I’m a fan,) is that writers, poets, artists, or creators in general, use images from experience to serve as a muse for their art.  Creating draws on this well of images.  Life experiences fill it up.

Writer Richard Ford, in his New York Times essay, advises that living life comes first.  Writing second.  In fact, he likes to take large chunks of time between projects to recharge his muse.  This can mean anything from watching daytime television to visiting an amusement park.  Personally, I prefer the latter to the former for stocking the pond.  Like Ms. Cameron, I would advise doing something, rather than nothing.

So, if anyone’s counting, that’s about 350 words for today.  Tomorrow, I’m going to the movies.

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