Priming the Pump

I heard an Angel speak last night, and he said, “Write!”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

A few years ago I was stuck in the middle of my story, bored with the direction it had taken and feeling stale.  Nothing I wrote felt fresh or amazing.  I didn’t care what my characters were doing or saying.  It wasn’t that the story was bad or I was going in the  wrong direction, it was me; I was stale.

One of the first things I did when I started writing was subscribe to Writer’s Digest and its affiliated book club Writer’s Digest Shop.  While looking through the site one day I came across A Creative Writer’s Kit by Judy Reeves.  It is a kit of writing prompts and practices for every day of the year and some cards to keep you motivated.  I really needed something to kick start me again and perhaps this would be it.  I bought the kit.

I have never been sorry.  In the course of the last several years I have written on jealousy, explored loves won, lost, and won again, hidden characters in a dark hold while their ship was being searched. and watched the world go by from behind a lace curtain.  I went on a Shopping Spree that turned into some of the best writing I ever did and became the first chapter for my current work in progress, now known as Energy Weavers.  I’ve written about Shoes and Something Eaten, and A Borrowed Dress.  This week I was inspired by the snowstorm that has hit the Seattle area and dumped ten inches of snow in my yard to write a story based on “A Cold and Snowy January Day”.

I’ve gone from a Regency period mystery to a present-day alternate world to far into the future and explored everywhere in between.  These little prompts (for example, December 6 is “This is what she said.”) give me scope for all sorts of imagination.  They are like a wind blowing through the sameness of my writing amd brightening things up.

Writing prompts and practices is what I call priming the pump. I don’t do it every day, but I do it often enough to stay fresh.  Sometimes I use the prompts in this kit or other books and sometimes I just find other ideas around me, challenge myself to write a story out of mundane everyday objects: A pot, a pan, a knife, a hat.  What about a hatbox?  I just got one of those for Christmas.  What would you do if you found an old trunk in an attic?  Write a story about a blank piece of paper.  I once wrote a story on an iceberg that had broken free — from the iceberg’s point of view.

Anything and everything can become inspiration for a story, a poem, a map, or an article.  Sometimes it’s really good, sometimes it is just worth writing it for the exercise of it.  The point is to write, write, write; whatever catches your eye, write about it for ten minutes, thirty minutes, whatever you have.  I am always surprised by what comes out the end of my pen and rarely disappointed.  I’m not looking for golden prose, just something new and different and fresh.

My question: How do you prime your writing pump?  Do you use writing prompts or do something else?

It is still a cold and snowy January day here, but with the promise of a Pineapple Express coming in from Hawaii and dumping 3-4″ of rain on top of all our gorgeous snow.  I feel a little storm writing coming on.

Happy writing, everyone.


6 thoughts on “Priming the Pump

  1. I’ve found the writing course on “Active Settings” that I’ve just finished has done exactly that, it’s primed the pump! Other than constantly doing writing courses, I have mostly used listening to audio books set in a similar setting to kick start my creative juices. Something will be mentioned or described and I’ll find myself sending an email with notes to myself from my phone, or racing for a pen and paper! But I like the sound of your prompts, might look into that!

    • I just bought three more books that are full of writer’s prompts: The Pocket Muse, The Write-Brain Workbook (couldn’t find the companion book) and The Writer’s Idea Book, 10th Anniversary Edition. Just go to Writers Digest Shop and look under The Writing Life tab. They have a ton of “prompts and practices” books there.

  2. I happened to look back at an August post and find you again, Deb. So I read this piece and loved it. I might even find myself checking out the prompts you suggest. Thanks so much.

  3. Elaine, I do hope so. I just got my new WD books and am loving them. I like The Pocket Muse a lot. It’s sparking some great ideas. I’m stuck in the living room after surgery, so not at the computer as much, but what I’m writing is fun and fresh to me.

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