Hemingway Lesson Part II – Replenish your creative well

I love the scene from The Shining when Shelley Duvall goes into Jack Nicolson’s office and finds a stack of paper with “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” typed repeatedly for hundreds of pages. When I first saw it, back the 80’s, it really creeped me out. But now whenever I find myself in front of a blank computer screen with absolutely nothing to write about, it suddenly makes sense (well, sort of). It’s almost impossible to write when your creativity well is empty. That’s where we can take another lesson from Hemingway. Work hard, then replenished your well:

When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing that you were writing before you could go on with it the next day. It was necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything. But afterwards, when you were empty, it was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again (25).

We sometimes make ourselves into “dull boys” by not doing activities that refresh us. My free time is often filled with checking email, Facebook, Twitter or surfing the Internet. And if I’m honest, it’s all pretty draining. Exercise, on the other hand, is not only beneficial for our health, but also does wonders for our creativity. It clears the mind by transferring the focus from our brains to our bodies. When I’m exercising, I have a hard time maintaining a train of thought. I get lost in the activity because my endorphins have kicked in or I’m in too much pain to think about anything else. Either way, I come back to my writing recharged.

I also find it helpful to spend quality time with the people I love. Being with my husband is the best. Enough said.

Hemingway emphasizes the importance of reading by making it the bookend for all of his activities. Writers know that it’s essential to read. I would argue the benefits of reading reach far beyond writers. It stimulates thinking and expands the mind. It can also be entertaining. Far too often I treat reading as an extension of my work rather than using it to replenish my creative well. Everything I read is either instructional or spiritual. Even when I pick up a novel I study it for craft rather just enjoy it. My daughter once told me all the novels I read are depressing. So she picked out something fun for me to read. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the light-heartedness of her selection. I think that is exactly what Hemingway was saying. Reading should transport us to another place to let our mind rest. When we’re resting, our mind does its best work.

Just like we have to commit ourselves to our work, we also have to regularly replenishing our well. So my challenge for you this week is to do something fun. Spend the weekend replenishing your creative well. Remember, “all work and no play makes {insert your name} a dull boy/girl”.

Thoughts???

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