Priming the Pump

When Sitting Down Isn’t Enough

I’ve been writing long enough that I don’t usually have a problem sitting down to write.  Oh, I admit that some mornings, I do more than my allotted share of puttering.  In addition to scrubbing out the kitchen sink, which I always indulge in before going off to write, I might head to the refrigerator, and straighten out items on the shelves or toss a pile of wilted greens into the compost bin.   Despite momentary setbacks like this, I generally manage to be seated in front of my monitor within fifteen minutes or less.  But there are indeed those days when, even though I sit with my hands hovering above the keyboard and know what I want to write, the words seem stuck someplace deep within my skull.

On mornings like these, straining to put words down, I find myself typing and deleting, typing and deleting, typing and deleting.  I urge myself forward, take a deep breath and try to relax, but to no avail.  I can’t seem to make it past the first few words.  There’s a kink somewhere in the line, and nothing can seem to get through.

Instead of throwing my arms up in despair and bounding up out of my chair, what I’ve learned to do on these days is to begin writing about my frustration.  And rather than trying to write full sentences and choosing my words carefully, I simply write whatever comes to mind—or hand–not necessarily stopping at the end of a thought.  Not worrying about periods and commas and capital letters.

Unfettered, free writing at the beginning of a session can help in several ways.  In the first place, it allows you to get into the rhythm of typing or writing and seeing words appear on the paper or screen.  You begin to feel the writing in your body, viscerally, and the flow begins.

In the second place, by writing freely, whatever happens to be getting in the way that particular day may find its way out of your unconscious and onto the page or screen.  This in itself can be liberating.  The discomfort moves from within you to someplace outside, where it has less power.  Not only that, but understanding that there is indeed something troubling you, helps you move from self-blame to understanding and compassion.  And if you learn just why the writing is a bit more difficult this day, you might well be able to move beyond your frustration and toward fluency.

In this way, a few minutes of this kind of free writing, or venting, can dislodge whatever is blocking the writing flow, and you may well be able to segue into what it was you had planned to write about that day.

2 thoughts on “Priming the Pump”

  • Hey Jane, I read that a good way to break this kind of block is to buy a dozen eggs. Each time you go to sit down and write, you crack an egg in the bowl, put the shell in there, too. Crunch it up good. The idea is to think that you are breaking through this animosity. It’s also about not being afraid to waste. (Although, I find that if I mix this up with water, it’s good for the plants.) I love your website. This entry of yours got me out of my internet enmeshed wandering and back to writing today. Thanks.

  • You must have been looking over my shoulder this morning as, on my way to my office, I climbed the stepstool to wipe smudges from the high cabinet doors we never open (How did they get dirty anyway?!), decided I couldn’t live another moment with the crumbs in my bread drawer, and searched in vain for the care directions to the suddenly-drooping orchid on my sill. Thanks for reminding me how useful — and fun — free writing can be. I appreciate your empathetic reminder to get to my keyboard via a more direct route and for helping all your readers to become more less anxious writers.

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