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Refilling the Well

Photo by Sterling Morris: https://unsplash.com/@sterlingrmorris

I didn’t write much this weekend—too busy taking care of myself and my health, refilling the well of my energy so that I can write better than ever when I return to it tomorrow.

This is important to remember. The work will be there when you’re ready to get back to it. But if you regularly sacrifice your health, mental or physical, in order to bust out some words or push through a wall, eventually you will pay for it.

I’ve seen writers mentally snap and quit writing altogether to go back to manual labor jobs.

I’ve seen writers gain twenty pounds in a month because they pushed on when they shouldn’t have.

I’ve seen writers get carpal tunnel syndrome, back problems (I deal with these myself), and heart problems.

But the truth is that your health is a PREREQUISITE to writing. You can’t work well or at all without your health, so your health must comes first, always.

I began my journey as a professional writer about six years ago, and have made either part or all of my living as a writer since then. And one pattern I’ve noticed over time is that the Well of Inspiration eventually runs dry. It can’t be avoided.

When you’re just starting out, though, it’s hard to tell when you run dry because it feels just like any other blocker.

First, you think you just need another cup of coffee.

Next, you think maybe it’s a story problem. You go back to the concept; or you read through again, searching for the thread.

Then you open Facebook or Twitter and scroll through the endless feed, hoping to distract yourself, and that the inspiration will come back to you. Eventually, after staring at the screen for so many hours, you have to give up for the day.

The true test, of course, is when you come back to it the next day.  Finally, you look at the blank page and feel that blankness echoed in your own mind.

Your well is empty. Time to take a couple days off and do the things that refresh and energize you.

For me, those things are to read for pleasure, go hiking in the woods with the dog, play Tak with friends, attend a sketch comedy show at a local theater, and visit to a winery in the Texas Hill Country.

It can be very difficult to take the time you need—especially if you’re on a tight deadline. I told Shelly yesterday that since I have trained myself for years now to write every single day, taking a whole day off makes me feel like a worthless slug.

I am reminded of a scene from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Roark, the brilliant young architect, is a sort of ubermensch character. He has an enormous capacity and energy for work, and of course he is an artist in his field. But what struck me most was the scene near the end of the book where the newspaper mogul Gail Wynand brings Roark on a months-long cruise on his expensive yacht. Wynand is testing Roark—hoping to see the young architect crack under the pressure of not being able to work. Hoping to see him break.

But Roark manages to lounge in the sun, to be a completely lazy slug, with the same commitment he gives his work. Howard Roark tells Wynand:

“I’m not running away from my work, if that’s what surprises you. I know when to stop—and I can’t stop, unless it’s completely. I know I’ve overdone it. I’ve been wasting too much paper lately and doing awful stuff.”

And on the yacht, Rand writes of her hero: “Roark did not speak of buildings, lay for hours stretched out on deck in the sun, and loafed like an expert.”

We should all aspire to that kind of commitment on our off days. Fill your well. Read, lounge in the sun, do laundry, or just be lazy.

Do nothing with the same dedication you give to your work.