What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket
My wife and I have a couple of very close and wise friends, Tony and Kathy Dupree. Kathy likes to quote a phrase I’ve always loved, “What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket”. I know there is at least one book written about this. I’ve come across it in many places - even related to scripture - and have even written a blog in the past about filling the well as a songwriter.
I came across the phrase again this morning in some reading and thought about how it pertains to all creatives. You can think of writer’s block as a well running dry and this is where I think the comparison goes a long way to suggesting the way to not only avoid writer’s block but to stay refreshed.
Garbage in, garbage out?
When I’ve felt worn out with coming up with ideas over the years it’s helped to think that my well is either close to empty or I’m filling it with the wrong things. “Garbage in, garbage out” and “you are what you eat” to quote a couple more colorful phrases. If I’m spending my time watching junk or finding diversions to keep from writing, that’s the very stuff that’s going directly into my well. Easy to do. When writing gets hard I can justify a bunch of guilty pleasures. The trouble is those guilty pleasures ususally don't help with that bucket thing.
The good stuff
So I look for the things that require a bit of focus. Miles Davis, Ted Talks, biographies, podcasts, conversations … anything that has a chance of bringing my subconscious into play. I’m a big believer in the subconscious acting like a great co-writer. Your subconscious wants to be challenged to solve problems or to connect the dots. I can imagine it looking at the contents of my bucket sometimes and asking “is this all ya got?”. So I try to feed it. Fill the well with interesting stuff, food for thought instead of junk food.
It’s our job as creatives to constantly fill the well with the good stuff so when the bucket comes up we’re inspired.
A few ways I've been filling the well lately:
A trip to NYC. Travel has to be one of my tried and true well-fillers. Bruce Springsteen On Broadway was amazing, Central Park, lot's of walking and of course, the capitol of people-watching. Also museums do it for me. The New York Museum Of Modern Art during this trip.
Books. "The Art Of Memoir" by Mary Karr this month. You don't have to want to share your life story to get some unique writing tools from this one. Her methods of helping you pull up memories through the senses and then writing about them is something I've never experienced. Also reading "The Fruitful Life" by Jerry Bridges, an explanation of the fruits of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
Music. I live in Nashville. You could fill the well here any given night. Got tickets for Jason Isbell at The Ryman. Takes care of October:-) I name checked Miles Davis earlier, jazz and classical music has always helped me with melodies. Not focusing on lyrics or a singer's performance can give me more room to imagine.
Movies. Here's where the guilty pleasures come in but I try and balance my "I could watch paint dry" love of movies with classics, musicals and even the odd foreign film. I do have one that blurs the line for me between guilty pleasure and inspiration and that's "The Greatest Showman". Full of some great pure pop songs, something about the bearded lady singing "This is Me" that gets me every time ( the song, not the beard) and "Rewrite The Stars" is just a terrific melody.
Now to check the bucket...
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About Mark Cawley
Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals through iDoCoach.com. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 23 years in Nashville, TN.