When a writer needs to ‘go down to the well’

Just after Christmas, when I had finished my story set on a remote island, I had a brief hiatus, so I asked for a dream.

I’m in Cunningsburgh, in Shetland, but the coast is completely different. Instead of the wide flat apron of land around the voe, it’s high and mountainous.

Cunninsburgh, looking out towards the voe

We go to the top of the cliffs and start our familiar walk, down the narrow path which clings to the side of the steep slope down to the sea. We normally make this a circular walk, but when we reach the water and look up at the path ahead, it looks too long and hazardous. So we double back the way we came, and return to the top once again.

When I wrote the dream down, I knew I’d dreamt about this place before, and done the walk in other dreams; I also remembered that it almost always coincided with this stage in my writing, when I had finished one MS and not yet started another.

After I finish a book, I need a fallow time to rest and recover, refocus and regroup. I play with lots of ideas and then, just when I’m starting to feel impatient, one of them grabs me.

My dream of going down to the water reminds me of an idea I’ve read in books on writing, that writers need to take time out and ‘go down to the well’ to keep refreshing their ideas. Julia Cameron talks about it in her ‘writer’s date’ suggestion in ‘The Artist’s Way.’

Julia Cameron recommends taking time out every week, but I find my writing pattern is such that when I’m in the flow I just want to write 24:7 till I reach the end, and then take a chunk of time out to recover (and get some sleep!)

After this dream, and a period of rest, what eventually grabbed me was a return to the world of Peony Pinker, the protagonist of my latest published series. I guess that’s why I doubled back in my dream.

It’s only through writing down your dreams and noting alongside them the main things that are happening in your waking life, that you start to see patterns and parallels emerging. Certain themes and situations in your dreamworld may become familiar, as they reflect recurring themes and situations in your waking life.

I’ve just delivered my follow-up story to Peony Pinker, ‘Me and my big mouth, by Maddy Monday,’ so I won’t be surprised if I find myself walking back down to the water in my dreams these next few weeks.

If you’re a dreamer, are you aware of a recurring link between a dream situation and a waking one in your own life? 

If you’re a writer, how often do you ‘go down to the well’ – for a few hours every week, or for longer periods between writing projects?

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8 thoughts on “When a writer needs to ‘go down to the well’”

  1. I love this idea of going down to the well for refreshment and restoration. Water is a theme I enjoy whether in a dream or in life. And being near to water is something that I find very relaxing whether it’s sitting quietly by a stream or being submerged in the sea. Can’t beat it!

    1. Oh, I so agree! When I’m plotting, I like to go tramping over the hills, but when I’m resting and having a more general ponder it’s always the sea or the lake.

  2. Back in January, “Fill the well” was the guiding phrase I chose for the year. Easier said than done, especially as I have one book out and another one due in the first week of May! But thank you for this excellent reminder of how important it is to take time to restore ourselves.

    Wishing you happy walking and well-filling time!

  3. I have a guiding phrase for the year too – it’s a brilliant way of focusing, and I find it life-changing. I hope you’ve got some serious chill-time coming after your deadline, Amy 🙂

  4. Ahhh the regrouping … I’m in a bit of a gap at the moment waiting for proofs and I find myself doing all sorts of things I’d pushed aside while I was immersed in my book. Some of them totally unnecessary but deeply pleasurable … like (on the urging of another writer) recording a poem on Sound Cloud for Poetry Month … and signing up for a Pilates class. I can feel my shoulders unsquaring. Good times!

    1. Yes, I love the rhythms of this work – after the pleasure of getting stuck in, the pleasure of kicking back. Enjoy!

  5. I’ve been dreaming a lot lately but have resisted writing anything down. I tell myself I don’t have time. And yet, every time I take the time, the attention is rewarded. I discover things days, months, even years later about those dreams. I think this post is going to push me over the edge into writing a dream journal again. Thanks!

  6. Yes, that discovering things later is really interesting. I read back over my dreams every couple of months and find all kinds of things in them that I didn’t realise was there at the time. The New Year is a wonderful time to begin a dream journal, Sharon – I’ve just bought a gorgeous new notebook for my own 2014 dreams

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