Priming the Writing Pump

Priming the pump–an old cliche, right? Yet sometimes cliches have things to teach us. I've been thinking about priming the writing pump lately because I've had a successful experience of it.

Pump_station_rusted_893111_hMy idea of priming the pump is doing a bit of pre-work to get a flow going.  But I decided to look up the exact meaning.  Here it is:

Encourage the growth or action of something, as in Marjorie tried to prime the pump by offering some new issues for discussion.
In the late 1800s this expression originally was used for pouring
liquid into a pump to expel the air and make it work. In the 1930s it
was applied to government efforts to stimulate the economy and
thereafter was applied to other undertakings.

(Definition from, a cool site I just discovered.)

And here's how it works for writing.  You're stuck.  You're blocked.  You don't know where to go next.  Your first inclination is to stare off into space, wondering how you'll ever write again.  But then, being the wise writer that you are, you decide to do things a bit differently. So you make some notes about the scene you're working on.  Or you write something else.  You do some research.  You prime the pump.

I had an enlightening example of this in my own writing life last week.  Since finishing the Emma Jean edits and my trip to Nashville, I've been trying to get back to working on the new novel, trying being the operative word.  Progress was minimal because I was stuck on a scene, as in I didn't know where to go with it next.

I made some notes on it.  Jotted down what few ideas I had.  Nothing loosened the grip of my block on this scene. Finally–I'm a bit slow sometimes–I gave myself permission to write out of chronology.  (I did this earlier in the writing of this book but went back to my old stuffy ways.)  I was actually excited about writing a scene coming up in a few more chapters. 

And a funny thing happened as soon as I began writing that scene.  Ideas and images about the scene I'd been stuck on flooded in.  So back I went, roaring through the original scene.  Plus I had good stuff going for the new scene as well.

That, my friends is the power of priming the pump.  So this is my current motto:

Writing something, anything, is better than writing nothing. 

And now excuse me, I have a novel to get back to writing.  (Actually, I have an editing job to finish.  And a newsletter to write.  And a manuscript to read.  But I'm going to find time in there somewhere to work on my novel because I'm excited about it.)

What about you?  How do you prime the pump? Have you had any similar experiences?

Speaking of newsletters, and we were, a paragraph ago, you might want to sign up for mine.  You also get a free copy of my Ebook, Jump Start Your Book With a Vision Board.  The form is to the right of this column.  And thank you.



The very cool photo is from iboy_daniel.

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11 Responses to Priming the Writing Pump

  1. Zan Marie 10/08/2012 at 12:58 #

    As usual, Charlotte, you and I are on the same page. Check out my post for today. It’s on motivation and some truths that work for me.

    I’ve been in a slump due to the renovation of the house and the chaos that I’m living in at the moment. Add a bit of a fall that hurt my hand and you have a massive block to work through. Today’s morning pages gave me three truths that I needed to recognize. I think this stuff is individualistic. What worked for me this morning probably wouldn’t work for you.

    Happy writing!

  2. Charlotte Dixon 10/08/2012 at 13:37 #

    Oh Zan Marie I hope your hand is better.  And while your house is being renovated, too!  I remember having our kitchen redone a few years ago and I wasn't able to get anything done.  We're considering some renovations in the next few months and I'm already considering where I'm going to go to work!  Thanks for chiming in.

  3. Jenni Gainsborough 10/08/2012 at 15:36 #

    Thank you Charlotte, that was just the message I needed. I’ve returned from 6 weeks away from home with no writing done (despite my best intentions) and now I am sitting here nursing jet lag and playing Spider Solitaire…but no more! I am off to dig out the last chapter I was working on and get stuck back in.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 10/08/2012 at 16:07 #

    Yay, you're home!  I hope your adventures were wonderful.  Now get away from that Spider Solitaire and get to work! Can't wait to read more of your novel.

  5. J.D. 10/09/2012 at 04:25 #

    Hi. I agree with you. Sometimes I just start and something will come to me. When I start and something good happens, I like to reverse your mantra. “Pump the prime!” If you have it going and you’re in a good vein, don’t stop.

  6. Charlotte Dixon 10/09/2012 at 07:50 #

    I was just pumping the prime a few minutes ago, working on my novel.  I like that reversal a lot, J.D.  Thanks!  How are your mysteries going, by the way?

  7. Carole Jane Treggett 10/09/2012 at 12:03 #

    Here’s something uncanny: I wrote a rough draft of a blog post just last week after taking a picture of an old hand pump in front of someone’s house in the small town not far from where I live. Guess what the post is titled in my notebook? (I’m chuckling now typing this). I didn’t get around to polishing up my post/publishing it though :)

    I love your wise words as usual,how you encourage us to write something as opposed to nothing at all, and to give ourselves to transcend those (sometimes) rigid expectations we may have which actually end up stopping us from…writing.

  8. Carole Jane Treggett 10/09/2012 at 12:10 #

    …”and to give ourselves permission to transcend, etc” 😀

  9. Charlotte Dixon 10/09/2012 at 12:46 #

    Oh that's so funny, Carole Jane!  Serendipity!  But I'm sorry I grabbed the title first.  We can share it….thanks for commenting and for you kind words.

  10. J.D. 10/09/2012 at 19:39 #

    I pitched my latest to mixed reviews at KillerNashville in September. I have set it aside for a couple of weeks as I brush up an older book. A member of my writing group (with really no experience or contacts) is publishing some books and is interested. It will be similar to self-publishing, something I have never done, but I may put this old book through that wringer. Then I hope to find an agent for the one I pitched in Nashville and finish the work I have in progress. Thanks for asking :-)

  11. Charlotte Dixon 10/10/2012 at 08:23 #

    I've got an old novel sitting in the cupboard that I keep threatening to self publish.  Or I guess we call it indie publishing now.  A friend has gone through that process with his novel and he's doing well and loving it.  I'm really happy with the small publishing house that is doing my novel, and I'll be submitting my next novel to agents, also.  Still would like to crack that nut.  I'm just a masochist, I guess.  I have high hopes for your mysteries, J.D., so keep at it.

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