Monday, May 14, 2012

14. BLOGATHON SWAP DAY—“Digging Deep into the Well”

On this, the 14th day of the WordCount Blogathon, participants are swapping posts with each other. My guest post has been written by Anne Wainscott, a copywriter and fiction writer whose blog, The Writing Well, is devoted to excellence in writing. Her post today is about a topic dear to my writing heart: the importance of “the well,” or the unconscious, in writing.

Anne’s book A Breath Away: Daughters Remember Mothers Lost to Smoking can be purchased here.  Take it away, Anne!

annesargentwebversion                       A Breath Away cover (hi-res)

Last weekend I reviewed The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. While I was on this talented author’s website, I stumbled across a page titled, “Thoughts on Writing” – where she described 10 lessons or insights she’s learned on the path to becoming an author. The third observation she made really struck me…she called it “tapping the river.”

“The well springs of the creative life are deep inside of us,” Monk Kidd wrote. “It’s the place where images are bred, thoughts and feelings are converted into meaning, dreams are choreographed, myths congregate, and the soul talks. Some call it the subconscious, the matrix, or the source of our psyche. I picture it as an underground river, and as far as I’m concerned, the water is composed of genius. I try to dig down to it in a few places and lower my bucket…There are a hundred ways to tap the river.”

Well, the inspiration for my blog, The Writing Well, was similarly inspired. It came from an Ernest Hemingway quote: "I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it."

For me, the magic of narrative writing depends on this process described by both of these authors in different ways. Life experiences, dreams, emotions …the stuff from which stories are born…requires surrender and a willingness to listen to our inner truth.

Do you know what stories you are compelled to write?

For me, my first book, a mother-daughter memoir, A Breath Away, came as an outpouring of grief…becoming a mother while losing a mother. I tapped into my journalism roots to tell the story of 19 mothers and daughters who lost one another too soon because of smoking.

Seven years later, I am inspired to write another kind of memoir -- one that celebrates the wonder of childhood and the unique mother-child bond over bedtime stories.

Finally, I am digging into a lifelong interest in history to begin my first historical novel about a group of Dayton residents on the eve of a horrific flood.

As a commercial copywriter, I write every day, all day, for my clients. I’m often asked, given my work load and the demands of a young family, why I would pursue writing two books.

It’s not that I am a masochist. The simple truth is: I write because I have to write. As Morgan Freeman, one of my favorite actors, once said, “The reason actors, artists, writers have agents is because we'll do it for nothing. That's a basic fact - you gotta do it.”


Note from KL: My post today on Anne’s blog is about the difference in writing between showing (dramatizing) and telling (summarizing). My example is from Pandora’s Genes. Tomorrow’s post will be about a different writing challenge: How to keep going when you’re stuck.


  1. OK, so now at least I know why I am not a writer. No imagination. No well. No river. No "have to." It's a relief, actually.

  2. Thanks for the insights, but I have a question for both you and kl along these lines which is related to my own writing plans. How can you write about an experience that is so overwhelming that it goes beyond words? As Wittgenstein famously wrote, "Of those things we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent." But that means blank pages instead of lots of words, right? Basically, why is it conveniently assumed that all human experience is expressible in words and syntax?

  3. Dr. Dave--I am not certain that it is always assumed that all human experience is expressible in words and syntax. I am a writer, so I process experiences, even "those that are so overwhelming they go beyond words" in words. I don't sculpt or write music, so what other medium do I have? The best example I can think of from my own work is Going to See Grassy Ella, which is a comic novel ultimately about my sister's death, which was the most overwhelming experience in my life. I had no other way to express it. The same experience also shows up in Pandora's Genes. I may blog about this. I will pass your question on to Anne for her take on it. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Words are not the only means of expressing your experiences (no matter how painful), but they are the most accessible for those of us who write. Filmmakers who bring stories to life on the Big Screen are able to use action and body language without a single piece of dialogue to get across a feeling. Some of the most moving music I've heard has no have to decide what is best for you as an artist and a storyteller.