Friday, June 4, 2010

Prime the Pump

The act of writing begets writing. --Leonard Bishop
We've all heard the phrase, "prime the pump." This expression, early on in the plumbing business, came to mean the process of getting a water pump back up and running when air somehow got in the line and shut down the process. Thus a "prime"--the pouring of liquid in the line to expel the air--was needed to get back in business.

What about us writers? Do we sometimes need to prime our writing pumps--take an extra step to get words flowing again when they seem to dry up? I think so.

For me--I know so.

Jane Yolen, in Take Joy, A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft (p. 18) says, "There are many ways to prime the writing pump, not all of them pretty. But most of them work. And if you work at your writing every day, you will get better. Exercising the writing muscle is important, because flabbiness is as bad in a writer as it is in a runner."

So what are some ways to prime our writing pumps on days when words won't flow, thoughts are jammed, and nothing seems to be working? On days when, instead of setting prose down on paper, we get--shall we say--a bunch of hot air? Or simply an empty page?

Some "prime" suggestions include:
  • Journaling
  • Freewriting
  • Free association
  • Word prompts
  • Photo inspirations
  • Writing exercises
  • Poetry
  • Daily word or page counts
  • Blogging (which, I must say, has become one of my favorites :-)

Ms. Yolen reminds us (p. 59) of what we've read and heard many others say: "A writer is someone who writes." Therefore, no matter the means, we writers must get the word flow going. Use whatever prime works most effectively.

Of course, none of this addresses procrastination and BIC (Ms. Yolen's famous acronym, p. 84--"butt in chair). That, I think, is a subject for another post.

How about it? What are some of the ways you prime your writing pump when the lines go dry?


  1. Great advice! Yes, I think blogging is one of my favorites too:)

  2. Excellent post. My favorite line? "flabbiness is as bad in a writer as it is in a runner." So true, and so, so good.

    Blogging is great fun. I'm really enjoying it. But you know what I find can sometimes be the best? Even better than blogging because it's private and personal and it can be about anything? Freewriting. Some of my best work has come from me being stuck writing random thoughts and words, not worrying about grammar or anything.

    Suddenly. I'll just start writing, no transition, and I find the best of my stuff comes out that way.

  3. Yes, blogging is great! Or even writing articles or short stories.
    Sometimes I even try just blurb or synopsis writing, too.

  4. I'm so guilty of being flabby and wishy-washy, but I'll leave the excuse as being that "I'm not a full-time writer". Well that's not a good excuse but it'll have to do. :) I think I know where your pump picture came from...