An Empty Well

I sit here late at night, a glass of wine and a flickering candle by my side. The room is pitch black other than the light from my laptop screen and the orange glow from the fire in the wood stove. A blanket of fresh white snow covers the ground outside, the remnants of yesterday evening’s snowfall, the first of many as we head into the chilling months of a long Michigan winter.  I sit here quietly, alternating between tapping on my keyboard, and admiring the silence and the peacefulness and the crackling of burning wood. The warmth of the fire engulfs me and the desire to wrap up in the thick blankets of my bed is overwhelming.  Its moments like this that make me feel content, as if there is a truer and more existential existence than the chaotic lifestyles we have all accepted as normal.

I sit here tonight trying to write, but I have nothing to write about.  I try to be funny, but nothing makes me laugh. I try to be poetic but the words are not rhyming. I try to write anything, but the proverbial well is empty.  I crank the bucket all the way down, inch by creaky inch, and at the very bottom, the bucket hits the dry ground.  But why is it empty?  Isn’t this when writing should be spectacular, in these moments when all of the situational stimuli are in perfect harmony? This is my romantic vision of “the writing life. ” Shouldn’t the words be flowing like an open tap?

But what is “the writing life” when you are only a blogger?  Many of you have written before about that moment when you were finally able to call yourself a “writer.” I have not reached that point and I’m not sure I ever will. I’m not really even sure what that means, to call oneself a writer.  Sure, I sit here in my idyllic environment with my crackling fire and I tap keys on a keyboard… and words appear… and it makes me happy… and it satisfies some internal creative drive that I have.

But am I a writer? I don’t know…

My grandmother, who has long since passed away, was an art teacher and a significant creative influence in my life.  She was an amazing artist, able to sketch pencil drawings and paint beautiful watercolor paintings. She handcrafted porcelain dolls out of clay and hand cut and hand sewed the clothing they wore. She saw things differently than other people and she taught me how to see the world through the eyes of an artist, through the lenses of creativity.  Long ago she gave me a copy of the classic Annie Dillard book “The Writing Life” which I have mentioned in previous posts.

For a short time during her later years, my grandmother wrote a column for a local newspaper.  She wrote about personal topics and simple anecdotes about life.  She wrote columns that readers connected with.  I guess it was like blogging before the internet was around to allow us all to write our own personal blogs.  But I’ve often wondered if she ever considered herself “a writer” and what that word meant to her…

…and if she ever cranked her bucket all the way down to the dry ground of an empty well.



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22 responses to “An Empty Well

  1. I can understand and relate to what you’re writing. I go through the same thing. You’re a writer in that, you write, and I, for one, just read it. Not only did I read it, but felt compelled to respond.

    Some great artists and writers have stated to the effect that if you’re doing it for praise, recognition, fame or fortune then you’re lost. Thise things are perks and probably hinderances in their own way ( I wouldn’t know…I’ve never sold a piece of my writing)

    As for the empty well… I’ve been through that. One of the things that brings me out of it is to do exactly what you’re doing. Sitting down and letting words pour forth whether they are good average or if the outright suck

  2. I think those labels are what you make of them in your head. Jared and I have spoken about that very topic many times as both of us have written for a long time, but, at least in my case, I didn’t ever share anything with anyone until I started my little bloggy thing about a year ago. And until then, I never called myself a writer – I always said I was just a guy who wrote. I was not a poet – I was a guy who wrote (bad) poetry. Somehow I convinced myself that being a writer meant getting paid or famous or published or whatever, but those things weren’t me, so I wasn’t a writer. I am still none of those things, but I now think of myself as a writer solely because I write. There is something in me now that thinks of those labels as sort of immaterial to anyone but myself and defeatist if I withhold myself from them. I may not be able to call myself an author (yet), but, dammit, I’m a writer and I always will be.
    Really enjoyed this, by the way, Steve. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I am an artist (performer) by trade and yet I wonder the same thing. Oddly enough, the jobs that pay the most money in my field are often the ones that stifle my creativity the most. I have found that more artistic beauty and freedom lies in old black box theatres and in places like these. To me, you are an artist and a writer of the most exquisite sort.

  4. What a thoughtful post! You gave your heart & soul to this post. Actually i also never realized what a writer is all about! A writer is, a person who can bring his thoughts on paper; or a person who finds satisfaction, happiness & peace while writing; or a person who have enough readers to spend bucks to read that person’s writing; or a person who values appreciation of readers more than money in return.

    For me a writer is a common man who can write something to transmit his thoughts to his readers, I am not sure if i am right while saying this or not, still it’s my point of view. And in my point of you did a wonderful job with this post. You are a wonderful writer. Keep up the good work you are doing..

  5. bigsheepcommunications

    Creativity ebbs and flows. Go play in the snow for a while : )

  6. I think you are a writer when you can write about not being able to write–and you still make it interesting and compelling for the reader. That takes some seriously good writing ability! Well done, BRC.

  7. Writing about not knowing what to write about is ALWAYS the right thing to do. Keep it up — or pursue something different for a while. I’ve been blogging since the mid90s.

    I’ve been on many different sites–while my WP is “just me” and not exactly meant for entertainment or edification, those have been past goals. Over those years, I’ve taken a couple of 4 month pauses and I think a one month break another time. Sometimes it’s what you need to do (and of course, you’re doing other creative things in that time) for writing, I think.

  8. Well I love reading what you write even when you think you have nothing to say…this is one of my favorite blogs to read, and I read many. 🙂

  9. celticadlx

    I write for two reasons. I write because that’s what I do. It’s in me and I can’t not do it and feel right no matter what I have to do to earn my living. Also, I write because I want it to be the way I earn said living. Ask me which one feeds my soul. When I read your post this morning I thought of my evening last night in front of a fire with my husband (no snow here but still cold). At one point in the silence we shared with the crackling flames, I realized that this was a moment of true happiness. A moment to cherish and I was glad I was still enough to recognize it. You are a writer because you write, and like Scott said, I too, read what you wrote this morning. It brought my special moment back to me, so thank you for sharing. I would say, embrace moments like last night because they are your battery charger, and we all need that from time to time.

  10. Steve, you are a writer weather it be a poem, story, or what ever. Its not quantity but quality that counts, the writing may not always be to the same standard all the time but that does not matter.

    You know that in my blog i can write the greatest rubbish at times and my grammer may not be the best, but people seem to like my blog for that ,as so many have told me not to change my style.

    So carry on with your writing maybe some day down the line, YOU will call yourself a writer.

  11. Your well isn’t empty my friend…to me you are a “writer” & a great one at that. You just cranked out an awesome story about having nothing to write about…not many can do that. Sounds like your Grandma was a cool person just llike you. Enjoyed it.

  12. Brilliant writing, Steve. This might be my favorite post of yours yet. Spoken like a true writer. Well done!

  13. Actually, you had me in the first two sentences. And I read the rest of it and enjoyed every word. So maybe writing about your empty well was one way of refilling it. When I get to that “empty well” point, I go do something else – walk in the garden, go to the museum and look at Monet’s Water Lilies for an hour, poke around a junk store and take pictures of cast off treasure, etc. Or sit in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine . . .

  14. Margie

    I walk, which makes me a walker. I garden, which makes me a gardener. I take photographs, which makes me a photographer. Or does it? I write, but am I a writer? What is the line that makes us think we aren’t photographers or writers, even if that is what we do a lot of?

  15. Thank you all for your insightful, profound, thoughtful and encouraging comments. This just goes to show, you never know what kind of posts will connect with readers. This was written just on a whim on a night that I couldn’t think of anything to write. But seems to have struck a nerve with many people. I guess because we’ve all been there, not only having a bit of writers block, but also, wondering what the purpose of this whole blogging thing really is and what the results will be, of all of our hard work and time. The answers vary, I’m sure, from blogger to blogger, but the question remains the same. I appreciate all of you chiming in!!!

  16. Thanks, Steve, this was so quietly endearing, meaningful…definately connected with us. And isn’t writing supposed to engage the reader? You had my rapt and soulful attention the moment you described the quietude, the darkness with the fire crackling, a glass of wine, and the feeling of contentment that we are sometimes lucky enough to feel. I love feeling like that. So maybe it wasn’t am empty well, afterall, but the mysterious beauty of our silences that you managed to release into the world, through tapping on your keyboard in the dark…

  17. Steve, you are a writer because you write. You have fans and followers. You are a writer. Do not worry if the well is dry from time to time. The rains will come and the well will be replenished.

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  20. I’m with bigsheepcommunications on this one:
    “Creativity ebbs and flows. Go play in the snow for a while.”

    I consider myself a “tinkering thinker” or a “thinkering tinker” sometimes, but mostly I just like thinking of silly things … and I can’t sing or dance.

  21. If you can crumble the unforgiving writer’s block
    With but a few paragraphs of well-formed thought,
    Yours is the moment and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Writer, my friend!

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