There are seasons in my life when I just run out of fresh ideas, and it seems like the old saying goes that “the well has run dry.” During these times words like disdain and loathe don’t even begin to describe how I feel about being in a dry spell. I really love writing songs, especially songs about Jesus. Writing is how I express myself and it’s also one of the ways I connect with God. So when the creative juices aren’t flowing, it’s very frustrating for me, to say the least.
Recently I was doing some research on new ways to be creative. In particular I was looking for ways to not let the well run dry. As I researched I found numerous books and articles on the creative process. I also found plenty of people willing to be paid a nominal fee to help me become more creative. Instead of reading another book or paying someone for a lesson in creativity I started looking at it from a non-creative perspective.
I sat down and started looking for information on drilling. Later on I googled the question, “What makes a well run dry?” Surprisingly as I read through various articles and posts I found three similarities between what makes a water well run dry and when the writer’s well runs dry.
Sometimes a water well runs dry when there isn’t anything wrong with the source. The water is there but there’s no output. So if there’s plenty of water and nothing’s coming out then the only other possible culprit is a mechanical failure.
Like a water well, when a false alarm hits, the problem often becomes what’s getting in the way of the flow. In a well there might be a clog, a leak, or something wrong with the pump.
For creative people it’s the same. We all have a strong healthy source to draw from—our lives. If we are living and breathing then there are countless experiences that we have to draw from every day. Each new day will yield something new to draw from whether it’s the simple blessings in life or the trials and struggles we are currently going through.
So if I’m at a point where my creative juices have stopped flowing and nothing is coming from the source, I have to ask myself, “What’s causing this breakdown?” Sometimes it can be life situations that have me distracted, or maybe I’ve not been consistent in my routine to keep the juices flowing, or I’m falling into the trap I so often do in life and ministry—heavy usage.
When there’s too much demand put on a water source the well begins to have low pressure and will sometimes sputter and not produce like it should. The same goes for our creative minds. We can take on too many projects, or maybe there are too many deadlines that have crept up on us. All of a sudden we are producing but the output is nominal or weak.
In times like these I have to take a step back, breathe, and look at what’s going on in my life. Oftentimes it’s a mixture of projects, ministry, and personal life issues that have begun piling up. Then next thing I know my creative output is almost nil. When this occurs I have to do some re-prioritizing and make some hard decisions about things that I need to let go. All of us get the same amount of time each day, and there has to be a balance kept with work, family, and ministry. So before I take on a new project I remind myself that when I say yes to something, I’m saying no to something else, because I only have so much time to do a few things well.
There are times a well does genuinely run dry and it’s all used up. If the well gets used faster than the rainfall can replenish it then the water in the well will be depleted and the well is dry and useless. Your only other option at that point is to drill a new well.
If we get to the point where there’s nothing in our creative well anymore, then it’s time to take a long rest or a sabbatical. There may be a season when you need to step away for awhile and allow time for the well to be replenished.
As humans we don’t have the option of drilling a new well. So if you or I get into that place of a dry well, then we need to be willing to take a long pause and allow our minds to rest. For some of us, that’s a scary thing because we get our identity from our creativity. That’s when I have to remind myself that I’m not really defined by my creativity, but by my Maker. As believers our identity is in Christ, and He will not leave us nor forsake us. He will give us everything we need. Even if we get to a place where we are all used up, He’s still there. We just have to tap back into the Living Water that never runs dry.
God has gifted us with one well to draw from, so we need make sure we take care and do proper maintenance so we don’t run into false alarms, heavy usage or take the chance of being used up. Here are a few suggestions of things that I’ve done over time to keep my creative well flowing.
Journaling—Setting a specific time to write down what’s going on in my life. Writing down praises, prayers, family events and how God is moving in my life. Making sure to record spiritual markers and answered prayers.
Rest and Refreshment—Taking at least one day of rest each week, and intentionally planning longer breaks (about a week at a time) at least twice a year, if not more, where I detach and let my mind rest.
Intellectual Food—Reading new books on the creative process and also reading classic literature. I’ve found so many hidden gems in reading classic literature, poetry and old hymns. Also I need to make sure I’m reading the Scriptures regularly.
Learning to Say No—One of the hardest but most valuable lessons I’ve learned for my creative health and the health of my family is knowing when to say “no.” For most of us there will always be more opportunities than we actually have time for. Learn to say no to things that you truly do not have time to do. If you must say yes, then before you do commit to something new, decide what you will let go of in order to make time for the new thing.
Intentional Planning—Be intentional about keeping a calendar of events, projects, and goals. If you try to do it all in your head you will forget something and you’ll miss a deadline or be cramming to get things done. Take the time to get organized and keep yourself on track.
Meditation and Prayer—Take time to meditate and pray. Spend more time listening than asking. Let God speak to your heart.
Remember He’s the endless faithful source of life. If we allow Him to fill us, the well will never run dry. Our God is a creative God that is full of splendor and majesty. Psalm 19 tells us,
1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display His craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make Him known.
God has chosen His creation to be His voice. So let’s make sure we take time to do what’s necessary to keep the well from running dry. We have a calling and God will give us what we need no matter where we are in life. As the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”
Stay creative, my friends … there’s so much more of His story to tell.
James Eric Myers is a pastor and independent songwriter in Northern California. His songs have been published by Lifeway Worship, Daywind, Discover Worship and Worship Leader Magazine’s Song Discovery. Currently he is the Lead Pastor of Pollock Pines Community Church in the Sierra Nevada mountains between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe where he lives with his wife and two teenage sons.