Shauna posted recently about 'filling the well'. To be honest, it's a term I only started hearing a couple of years ago when I started spending time with writers.
The idea seems to be that creativity is a cool liquid, of which we drink deeply. Sometimes, a project can leave us feeling drained. Times like that, we need to stop drinking and let others' waters replenish our own.
At least, I think that's the idea. It's one of those things folks tend to talk about as though everyone else already knows. I've had to pick the metaphor up on the run.
I get the feeling writers expect to approach their new project with a well filled to the brim with sparkling ideas. With every day's work, the bucket has to dip just that little bit deeper. A few I know fear that one day they 'go to the well' and hear nothing but a dry thunk.
Me, I don't like this metaphor so much. It's so.....
If I have a well of ideas, its a bloody great artesian thing.
I'm a productive guy: I write a novel or two a year. Do maybe a dozen, two dozen paintings. Fill a couple of sketchbooks and occasionally bring a little extra spark to my gentle whoredom in the tattoo studio. I don't lower a bucket and hope to find something. For me, it's about not being knocked down by the spray.
So what do I do to stay creative?
1. Distrust Mood: I had the great good fortune to have the idea of a 'creative mood' drummed out of me early on. Stephen King puts it nicely in this article, where he suggests the muse is most likely to find you if you're already sitting there working.
2. Care for Your Tools: I keep my pencils sharp, my brushes soft, my pens inked, my typewriter oiled and my laptop clean. I also eat pretty well and stay in reasonable shape. I know painters who wouldn't dream of letting paint sludge dry on their brushes, but they do nothing to care for the hand and arm and brain doing the work.
3. Permission to Fail: By definition, every day cannot be our best. That's okay, no big deal. The more we practice our arts, the better we get. The better our 'average' becomes. I find it helpful to accept that today's work might suck, then get on with it.
4. Blood to Brain: Thinking burns glucose. It also requires oxygen, and the clearing of waste products. How does all that happen? Yup, blood flow.
When I feel blocked during a work session, I charge up the old heart. These days I have a heavy bag behind the house, and whaling on it feels great. Before the bag, I'd do pushups or situps. I'm often surprised at how a quick shock of activity like that will clear those blockages.
5. Sidestep: I like to jump around in different media. Even the ones I'm bad at. As long as it gives me a little bit of fun, what's the harm?
In fact, a sidestep was how I started writing in the first place. One of the reasons I started down this road was that I was doing an enormous amount of work-for-hire drawing comics. It was great fun, and I was forced to stretch my art in ways I never would have otherwise tried, but... I missed telling my own stories. Doing two comics at once was so time-consuming it was out of the question, so I sat down and wrote a novel. And another. And....
And lastly, COFFEE: I drink a lot of coffee. A lot.
Even when I'm going down a wrong turn, I get there quickly.