Time to Write: 3 Ways To Prime the Pump

Saturday, April 04, 2020
When we were kids, my sister and I loved going to grandma’s cabin in part because of the pump. We’d stampede through the front room and out the back door. One of us would pour the jug of water into the top of the pump. The other grabbed the handle and pumped like mad. Then we’d hear that deep gurgle and soon water would flow from the spout.

As writers, many of us are finding it difficult to write. It might be the stress. It might be the fact that everyone is home. But as Angela pointed out to me last week, writing can help us process what is happening right now. We need to write. We are, after all, writers even when the world is strange.

Here are three things you can do to prime your writing pump and get the words to flow.

Find a workshop or webinar. Yesterday I attended a Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) webinar on rewriting a novel led by Kate Messner. Knowing that she would be talking to creative professionals who might need a nudge, Kate had several exercises for us to complete. By the time the webinar was over, I was ready to get to work. You can find the list of SCBWI webinars here and don’t forget to look through the list of classes offered by WOW.  

Write something that isn’t going to be published. A webinar or class might be more than you want on your calendar, but you can play by writing something you will never submit. I like this because I don’t have to worry about whether or not my editor is going to like it. I can just have fun. One of the best ways for me to play is to write poetry. No, I am not a poet which is why this works. I’m not going to do anything with it other than play. April is National Poetry Month and Writer’s Digest senior editor Robert Lee Brewer is posting a daily poetry challenge on his blog, Poetic Asides. Check out his challenge

Play with your work in progress. For some people, doing something completely unfamiliar is stressful. If that’s you, play with your work in progress. Copy a scene or chapter into a new document. There are several different things that you can do. You can change your setting – how different would your story be if it took place in a coastal city 100 years ago? Or the Wild West? Or Victorian London? If you aren’t up for something that extreme, rewrite the scene from a different character’s point of view. See what your antagonist or the sidekick has to say about what is going on. Or you could change it from first person to third person omniscient or even second person. No, I don’t expect you to rewrite the whole piece like this but play with one scene and see what you get. It may spark something that gets you writing again.

A pump can be primed only one way, but there is no single fix that works for every writer. If you have a favorite I haven’t mentioned, tell us about it in a comment. Who knows? It might be exactly what a fellow Muffin reader needs to hear.

Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins  May 4th, 2020. 


Angela Mackintosh said...

Thanks for this, Sue! I love your second tip, writing something that isn't going to be published because it's freeing and just as important as writing for publication, if not more so.

When I think of a writing life, what it means to me is being an outsider and bearing witness to the world around you. Even if that world is surreal or even horrifying. Making space for a writing life can be calming, healing, and meditative during times of stress. Lately, I've been incorporating a little yoga and journaling. Believe me, I'm feeling the anxiety just like everyone else and I have a lot of responsibility to keep things afloat for everyone, but instead of dwelling on stressful thoughts, we can task ourselves to the arts and do something positive.

I'm also finding that writing service pieces and resource round-ups are really healing right now. It's not exactly creative, but I feel a sense of calm finding markets and opportunities for writers. It keeps me in touch with what's going on in the industry and how publications are shifting and which industries are thriving, because there are definitely some who are.

Craft books are helping me right now as well, like Chuck Palahniuk's Consider This; and writing life podcasts like Otherppl are keeping me in the writing zone. Also, switching media--doing artwork and design keeps me creative. And writing short! Flash pieces are where it's at right now. :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Maybe a taser? Or an electric cattle prod? ;)

Seriously, to keep completely out of the not-writing rut, I've been writing some shorter pieces (Chicken Soup) and submitting them.

Looking at artistic photographs (online) sometimes spurs me into writing something.

Margo Dill said...

I've been writing some fiction and nonfiction--both help me lkeep the pump primed! :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I'll have to try a bit of fiction.

Like you, I've been writing short lately.

Yoga does help! And thank you for all of your tips for everyone both in your columns and here. You do so much to nudge the rest of us along.

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