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At the Bottom of the Well

Originally published at Joely Sue Burkhart. You can comment here or there.

From The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron:

Art is an act of tuning in and dropping down the well. It is as though all the stories, painting, music, performances in the world live just under the surface of our normal consciousness. Like an underground river, they flow through us as a stream of ideas that we can tap down into. As artists, we drop down the well into that stream. p. 118

Years ago, I had someone discourage me from writing “in the zone.” I blogged about what the zone meant to me here, although my understanding has changed considerably since then. I deliberately and consciously gave up that rush of writing, the joy, the dream of just me and the story in the night. I slowed down and concentrated on structure and plot and characterization, all important skills I must develop as a growing writer. While my once sleek–and naive–midnight car sat along side the road, stripped, rusted and withering away under the blistering noonday sun.

Those of you who’ve read my blog since around 2005 know that I came really close to throwing in the towel. I lost that joy. I lost that sense of magic, the wonder and awe when something I included in the story purely by chance suddenly became a powerful and meaningful element to my theme. That magic was gone and I didn’t know how to get it back. Everything I touched was crap.

It took over a year, but the crawling, wounded bug that my butterfly had become finally soared with the completion of Beautiful Death, a story full of butterfly metaphors. Finishing that story put me back in my car driving on my silent, empty road at night. It was pretty rusty and beat up, but the poor old car did run. It ran enough to help me finish more stories. I used some of the craft I’d learned (while not managing to actually WRITE) and polished and edited several stories until finally, my sense of confidence had returned.

I didn’t realize that I was recovering my sense of connection (week 7) and my sense of strength (week 8 ) but that’s indeed what had happened over the past few years. I wrote and wrote some more, and my artist slowly recovered its voice. I began to write with authority. I refused to surrender my Story, my vision, no matter what that meant. However, I didn’t always have that sense of joy that I used to have. I chalked it up to innocence lost. My eyes had been opened, I couldn’t sleep any longer, and all I could do was keep moving, slow and painful as that might sometimes be.

I wasn’t always writing from the bottom of the Well.

After all, it’s rather scary in the Well. I might drown in all the darkness and emotional issues that wait down there. Only by knowing and accepting all of myself, all the emotions that I pretended I didn’t have for one reason or another, could I even find the Well. Sometimes I fell in the Well too suddenly and forced myself to face cold hard facts totally unrelated to writing. Those emotions sometimes bled into what I was writing, which was painful and scary, but also necessary. I didn’t understand why, but I knew it was important.

I go back to the positive affirmations:

My creativity heals myself and others. My creativity leads me to forgiveness and self-forgiveness.

So many things have become clearer. Now I understand why some characters and stories might have spoken more clearly to me than others. I know why I was haunted by some stories that had to be written. More importantly, now that I realize when I’m at the bottom of the Well and how I got there, I understand why Gregar is my Muse and always has been.

He lives in darkness, you see. He’s always known about the Well. With his ivory rahke gripped in his teeth, he’s been dragging me there by my throat.

Now what makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck is that accidental Well I wrote about years and years ago when Shannari faced a terrible choice (in a craptastic rough first draft of Road that shall never see the light of day again). No wonder she wanted to slide into the Well so badly.

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