February 20th, 2013


Going to the Well

In an interview with The Splendid Table, indie rap queen Dessa talks about eating on the road. Minding one’s daily calorie intake, honey for the voice, filling your pockets with condiments at the gas station, running for a salad in the time it takes to fill the tour van’s tank.


But she also responds to the question, “Where do the lyrics come from?”

“…I’m not completely sure. I think sometimes it feels as I grow older, and you’ve had more bouts of inspiration and more dry spells, it feels more like kinda catching a wave than it does going to a well. So when you feel that a good lyric day is happening to you, it’s like, OK, what can I get off my calendar today, ‘cause I don’t get these every day. So you’re standing at the place lightning struck last time, but it’s still a game of odds and chance…it’s something that I don’t understand completely.”

One of the things I learned from the writing competition that I did last year was that I don’t have to wait for lightning to strike. I can go to the well, and going to the well every week starts to create its own wave, as if each bucket I throw into the reservoir makes a tiny ripple, and the more buckets I carry, the wider the ripples spread until I can start to surf them, flow with the ideas that form themselves into words and appear on the page like dirty magic.

But the first bucket sucks. It’s always got some shitty, splintery handle and a hole in the side and it’s exactly the right size to bang into my leg and leave bruises all over my knees. The first bucket is my so-called ‘writer buddy’ working a three-day weekend and then his biological mom comes into town for his birthday and WHERE’S MY FUCKING WRITING DATE YOU GODDAMN TRAITOR?

The first bucket is making too big a writing schedule and being pretty sure I’ll fail at it. Because making a schedule means I can trade the excuse of “I’m a great writer, I’m just lazy” for “I’m a great writer, I just take on too much.”

It’s the bucket of You Would Not Believe How Much I Can Cross Off My To-Do List Before I Sit Down to Write the First Word. Yeah, that shit’s on sale this week, so I stocked up.

It’s hard to remember that the buckets get better. Lighter. Easier to fill, the path to the reservoir shortening once I know the landmarks. That I don’t have to be under pressure to make a deadline. That the most successful and published writers I know are not waiting around for the wave to lift them up, they’re carrying buckets every day. They are not waiting for inspiration or agonizing about the meaning of creativity, they’re mining the goddamn coal.

So I’ve got this new schedule. I’m going to the well, five hours a day, five days a week. Stocking up on water while I don’t have a day job. Pouring it into the empty, cavernous reservoir, bucket by bucket. Trusting I’ll make some ripples, trusting they’ll make some waves.