The Contour: Relearning creative refueling

Writing this column can be one of the most difficult tasks of my week. I find myself writing large-scale research papers with more ease than squeezing out five hundred words about nearly anything I please. But I recently rediscovered a fairly self-evident principle of creating that’s helping me: the principle of input-output.

It applies to everything. If you don’t put anything in, you won’t get anything out. If there’s no sound running into the speakers, no sound comes out. If you don’t put gas in your tank, you get no driving power. If you don’t recharge the batteries, you get no energy. illustration by Jenna Reed

It’s how it works for research papers. No research: no paper. But that’s obvious, so we do the research and we write the paper. Yet in terms of creative output we often neglect input and end up wondering at why we have no inspiration, no “oomph” behind our endeavors, no vision and no drive.

But it is no wonder. We haven’t taken anything in, touched, tasted or seen, and then internalized it. We have no reservoir to draw on. We draw a creative blank when we sit down to draw or write because we call upon a dry well that echoes back to us — cavernous and empty. No creative input, no creative output.

The consequences of neglect go beyond a dried up well. When artists neglect to care for themselves, it results in self-hurt. More often than not, artists will look at their inability to create and blame themselves, when actually it’s not a problem innate to their lack of skill, but a problem of discipline and practice, particularly one of balanced input. 

It’s simple, yet neglected. The cure is, in one sense, easy: read books, watch films, go to art museums, listen to new albums, fill the empty well. But the cure is difficult at the same time — because of the reason you neglected it in the first place.

It sounds a lot like going to art museums and reading books “for fun.” But it’s a necessary work, and though most of the time this work is not counted in the same currency of everything else (grades, credits, money), it’s valuable. It’s necessary.

So if you find yourself as an artist with a dry well, go visit a park, start a new book. Give yourself the necessary gift of input so that you can continue to have creative output, to give of yourself.


This piece is considered a “standard” column in our print edition.
The Contour: Drawing the line between broken and beautiful
by Jenna Reed, features editor

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