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Visit Your Wellsprings Often

A few years ago, a colleague of mine, a kind and capable man, hosted a conference that I attended as the headmaster of a school. Though much of the conference was interesting and useful, it was one phrase he uttered which remained with me long afterwards.

Being a headmaster is a thankless task: one is swamped with responsibilities branching off in all directions, from child welfare and safety, to academic results, to staff management to financial strategy, and everything in between. At no point is there a moment when you can step back and say that any part of the job is completely done - being successful at it largely means persisting in it. There are times when it can be utterly overwhelming, as I’m sure many jobs can be. What Neill said was designed to succour us through all this. He said:

‘Visit your wellsprings often.’

It took me a while to figure out what he meant, but the answer came. In any job, indeed in any situation in Life, things can become too much. We need to isolate those things which can act to refresh us emotionally, mentally, spiritually - and then we need to make use of them. For some people, this might be a person; for some, a particular place; for others, a book or religion. Whatever we discover our wellsprings to be, it is up to us to then visit them frequently enough for them to work their magic.

The same thing applies to writing. When that draft is stuck, when a character simply doesn’t work, when a plot becomes tangled, or when, at the end of it all, a book simply doesn’t sell, there has to be a way of refreshing ourselves, stepping back from frustration, anxiety and stress, and getting more perspective on the situation.

I was lucky to have several wellsprings which sustained me through hard times, as a headmaster and in other situations: my wife and daughter were the people I turned to, and I had a place to which I would go whenever I could, though at that time it was hundreds of miles away. On a couple of occasions, I rose very early and drove through London in the middle of the early morning (discovering that London at 4:00 am is much the same as London at 11:00 pm) then North, up the A1 motorway, arriving in Yorkshire before lunchtime. Parking the car, I would walk along a cold and windy ridge, looking down into the lonely, sheep-dotted valley below, and then climb up the steep hillside to finally reach its peak.

From there, looking out south and west, the hills stretched far to the horizon. On the edge of sight one way were tall white towers, similar to the ones described by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, and easily imagined as elvish constructions; in another direction lay the bleak moors, barren and beautiful, wrinkled with wild valleys which I longed to explore. To my right was an ancient wood, and in the distance to my left, the city of Sheffield lay hidden in the haze. No air refreshed me quite like the air that blew in from those moors.

Now I am fortunate enough to live a few hundred yards from that spot. So I visit my wellsprings perpetually.

Take a look around. What are your wellsprings? They don’t have to be places, they can be people, books, objects, even ideas. Draw water from them and be refreshed.


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