Priming the Pump

Sometimes you have to prime the pump

Sometimes you have to prime the pump

I think every writer has sometimes felt a little overwhelmed by a blank page, whether it’s a page in a notebook, a sheet rolled into an old-fashioned typewriter’s carriage, or the glaring blankness of a newly-opened computer file.

Blank pages represent possibilities.  A new page is clean, fresh, and perfect. Once we sit down and begin to put our thoughts upon the page, however, its perfection is marred. The brilliant possibilities the page once possessed are diminished, becoming nothing more than dull words strung together in boring sentences.

The page taunts us. We grow more tense. We wrack our brains — and yes, I’m using wrack rather than rack.  I learned the expression from my grandfather who explained that “to wrack” means “to punish”. That’s what we do. At least, that’s what I do when my prose falls short of my expectations. I berate myself and my feeble brain. I punish my gray matter by insisting it work harder, think faster.

Of course, that doesn’t work.

A better approach, I’ve learned, is to stop punishing and allow my brain to have a little fun each morning before I begin writing.  It’s a process often referred to as “priming the pump.”  The expression comes from the act of pouring a bit of water into a well — thereby pushing out any air — so that it can begin pumping water.

Priming the creative well works in a similar fashion. If we pour a few thoughts in, we can force out the stilted, awkward, nervous writing that so often results when we face a blank page. Then, we can relax and allow our best writing to gush out of the well.

In other words, take a few minutes each morning to play around with your writing. Don’t sit down and immediately launch into the next chapter of your masterpiece-in-progress.  Grab a silly word prompt — you’ll find dozens of websites that offer them — and write two or three fun paragraphs. Or sit down and do a journal entry. Or — one of my favorite methods — put on a piece of classical music, listen, and write what the music makes you feel.

These little exercises aren’t intended to be great prose. You don’t need to worry about whether or your writing makes sense, whether or not your grammar and punctuation is perfect, or whether or not your ideas are good ones. In priming the pump, all ideas are good. The purpose is to loosen up your brain, allow your muse to come out to play, and limber up all of your writing muscles.

You don’t need to spend much time at it, and you don’t need to write a lot.  Two or three paragraphs can often be all you need to get the creative juices flowing.

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