Writing is Like the Bellows that Fans a Flame – We Must Empty Our Minds to Find Fresh Thoughts

Ostrich, Animal, Nature, Wildlife, Beak, Head, Eye

Are you bored? Are you boring? Has your writing become nothing more than a predictable pattern of words that no longer say anything at all? Do you feel that you have nothing more to say?

Here Is the Good News: You Do Have Something New to Say. You Simply Need to Catch a Breath of Fresh Air, and You Need to Use the Bellows of Your Mind.



What Is A Bellows?

A bellows is a device that can be used to build a larger fire. When the arms of a bellows are pulled apart, air is drawn into a bag. When the arms are squeezed shut, the air is rushed out, and the oxygen fans the flames, thus increasing the size of the fire.  Once the air has been emptied from the bag, the arms are pulled apart again, and fresh air is drawn back into the bag. When the arms are shut again, another blast of oxygen is expelled, and the flames leap higher. A bellows is sometimes called a blast bag.r fans t

Writing Is Like Using A Bellows–Our Memories Are the Flames

Writing is like using a bellows, and our memories are the flames. When we initially begin to write, our thoughts may be nothing more than a tiny flicker. Our thoughts need oxygen. We must fan our reflections to help them grow. We begin by pushing out the stale air which has been sitting inside our bags or our minds. When the whiff that was initially inside the bad blows out, the flame may flash for a second or two, but it needs more than a draft of stale, oxygenless air. Once the bag is empty, however, we can pull apart the bellows, and fresh ideas, renewed memories, and other invigorating thoughts will fill the bags of our minds. When we push that new bag of fresh air across the flickering light, the flames will begin to leap into the air. But in order to fill our bags with that vital and fresh oxygen, we must expel the insipid air that has been trapped inside.

Using A Bellows Is Akin to Emptying in Zen Philosophy of Emptying

The Full Teacup is a Zen story that illustrates the need for emptying. A man who was believed to be powerful and wise came to the Zen master to learn something new. Apparently, the student began by reciting to the master some of the things that he already knew. Apparently, he was trying to impress the master with the depth of his knowledge. After the Zen master listened for a moment, he said, “Let’ begin our session with a cup of tea.”

The master filled the student’s cup with tea, but he did not stop pouring. Tea flowed from the cup and ran across the floor. The student said, “Stop, the cup is full.”

The Zen master responded, “Exactly. Your mind is like the full cup of tea. I cannot teach you anything until you empty your mind and open yourself to something new.”

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 11

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

When we sit down to write, we often feel that we have nothing new to say. That is because our minds are filled we stale, lifeless thoughts. Before we can begin to discover what we want to write, we must expel what is inside ourselves and allow an empty space within our consciousnesses. I am beginning to prepare a Memoir Writing Workbook. It will be a ready-to write place for writers to empty what has been inside their minds, and it will be a space to allow fresh and invigorating thoughts to emerge. When I have the workbook ready, I’ll get back. Until that time, just write.

Write anything. Expel the dull and insipid thoughts that are stagnating within your mind, and allow something new to come inside. But here is the most important thing: You need to push those new thoughts out, too. You need to continue drawing in and pushing out, like a bellows, or your mind will become stagnant again.


I love to share the story that contrasts the waters of the Dead Sea, which is damned and stagnant, and the Jordan River that flows freely.

Two Seas

“There are two seas in Palestine. One is fresh, and fish are in it. Splashes of green adorn its banks. Trees spread their branches over it and stretch out their thirsty roots to sip of its healing waters. Along its shores the children play…..

The River Jordan makes this sea with sparkling water from the hills. So it laughs in the sunshine. And men build their houses near to it, and birds their nests; and every kind of life is happier because it is there.

The River Jordan flows on south into another sea. Here is no splash of fish, no fluttering leaf, no song of birds, no children’s laughter. Travelers choose another route, unless on urgent business. The air hangs heavy above its water, and neither man nor beast nor fowl will drink.

What makes this mighty difference in these neighbor seas? Not the river Jordan. It empties the same good water into both. Not the soil in which they lie not the country about.

This is the difference. The Sea of Galilee receives but does not keep the Jordan. For every drop that flows into it another drop flows out. The giving and receiving go on in equal measure.

The other sea is shrewder, hoarding its income jealously. It will not be tempted into any generous impulse. Every drop it gets, it keeps.

The Sea of Galilee gives and lives. This other sea gives nothing. It is named The Dead.

There are two kinds of people in the world. There are two seas in Palestine.” – Anonymous

Allow me to add to this parable. There are also two kinds of writers. One writer is continuously emptying his thoughts through writing, and for him, fresh ideas will continually flow inside to replace what had previously been there. The other type of writer will not empty himself. He will not allow what is inside his head out. Therefore, his brain has become parched and dry. The grass is no longer green in this writer’s mind, and the children no longer come to play. Nothing will change until the writer allows what is inside himself to flow out.

Creating is a way that we empty ourselves,
Allowing space for new creation to begin.
Creating is a way that we give of ourselves.
When we don’t give–when we don’t create–
We allow our inner selves to stagnate;
And stagnation leads to withering,
Which ultimately results in a type of death.
When we don’t create, we become like the Dead Sea.

©Jacki Kellum July 16, 2016




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