I once thought my ideas for stories were like drawing water from a pond or tank. I thought I had just so many, and when those were exhausted, I would be done. The ideas I had, I hoarded and tried to keep close to me until they were written and polished. Only slowly, like a trickle from a tap, would I let them be released lest I dry up my source. I worried that writing exercises would deplete my pond. Of course, I was wrong. Ideas for stories and essays and books, writing in general, is much more like an endless flow from a river or a spring.
In Ireland there are holy wells fed by springs that flow year round. Originally they were sacred to Brigit or Boann or some other form of earth goddess. Nowadays they are sacred to various saints. My favorite is Saint Dymphna, patron saint of the mentally ill. One well in Ireland that is dedicated to her is a lovely place with a statue that people decorate, and where gifts and offerings are regularly left.
Ireland gets a lot of rain. The water percolates through the earth and emerges again in the springs. Some spring-fed wells have existed for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years, and the water always flows. But in County Galway, I saw a well that had once been dedicated to Saint Brigit that no longer had water and instead was full of trash. Perhaps the town had grown around Bridget’s well in such a way that the underground water course was blocked and could no longer supply it. Perhaps the saint had just been neglected for so long that she moved her blessings elsewhere.
Writing is nothing like a pond or tank but rather like those rain-renewed wells. And the rain that renews writing is the practice of writing. The flow is endless, but must be tended. Writing begets writing.
I once thought I could never come up with enough ideas for a blog, but I have been surprised how easily the ideas keep coming–at least so far. I thought I’d have maybe three books in me at most, yet now I find five, six, more waiting their turn. I tend my well of ideas by writing more, not less. I have begun to collect writing prompts, exercises, and inspirations from other writers. Once I get going, my brain won’t shut up at night and let me sleep until I at least make a few notes to work from in the morning.
My well may run dry some day, but I will keep tending it. I will make my offerings of time and study and whatever else it takes to keep my saints or goddesses happy. And surely they will let the words keep flowing.
Image: Marilyn at St. Dympna’s Well (note the different spelling), County Galway, Ireland. By Jonathan Hutchins.