Priming The Pump - Getting Back Into Writing

David Trammel's picture

I know we have writers here and all writers take a break from their craft. Sometimes its intentional and sometimes its forced on us. Starting your writing back up can sometimes be a real problem. Here is one way I do it.

Pick any movie or television scene you enjoy. Something short, say under ten minutes. I prefer a scene with some dialog between just two or at most three people, and without being heavy in action. Something that the people in the scene are actively thinking. . Once I used the tango dance scene in Al Pacino's movie "A Scent of a Woman". I can't find it or I'd post it. The thing is for me its easier to use a dramatic or romantic scene, but use the one you feel best with. Same with the POV.

By the same token, sometimes going outside of your normal niche is good too.

I put the clip on and watch it a few times first, then I open my writing program. I use Wordpad for this and not my primary writing software Star Office because I don't want the software to interrupt me with typo corrections or grammar suggestions.

With the video providing the dialog, I "write" the scene as if I was doing it in book form. I provide the descriptive setting and the internal thought processes, but allow the dialog to lead my writing. This way I don't have to provide everything from scratch. Most of the time movie and television glosses over the internal, because its hard to provide it in visual form. As for the surrounding, they are on the scene to see. Writing it down though, forces me to get back into the format of the written story.

Now I do often have to pause the video, go back and listen to it again since I can't type as fast as its spoken. Sometimes I just write a few of the sentences of the dialog without the added material and then go back and begin to build the descriptive background. Sometimes I change or delete a word here or there. The point isn't to write a published ready story but to get your mind back into the "mode" of writing.

Now that the New Year is here, I've made a promise that I'd start writing again with the intention of getting a few stories published. So this week and last I've been doing this.

Question for the other writers here, what are your tricks to get yourself back into the groove?

Ken's picture

I seem to be perversely resistant to starting most writing exercises, although I freely admit that I frequently find them helpful once I actually start writing! However, 'morning pages' (from The Artist's Way), I nearly always enjoy and when I was focused on poetry rather than narrative fiction, I usually found that I could get an phrase or a kernel to work with from 3 pages of non-stop writing. For those not already familiar with morning pages, my version is to get up early while my dreams are still milling about in my head and BEFORE doing anything not absolutely essential, I sit down and write, by hand, at least 3 non-stop pages. It doesn't matter what. The only rule is the pen does not pause. The idea is to catch your subconscious before your 'editor' wakes up for the day. You need not show these pages to anyone, these are just for you; word calisthenics to improve your mental flexibility, zero-pressure spewing of verbiage to unblock a constipated brain. Just keep the pen moving. Give it a try for 3 days and see what you think... The Artist's Way is a brilliant book by the way; well worth having on the shelf.

I've used morning pages too, and had them be useful when I'm stuck on something or my brain feels overly full of distractions. I don't use them all that often, and usually didn't write three full pages - not least because writing that much at once risks overusing my hands.

I'm in a serious dry period now. Family health issues. I'll write about them later.

However, 50 words a day really helped me and I have to get back into it again. They can be any fifty words; a snippet of dialog, a dream you had last night, wondering where the ambulance, three police cars, and the fire truck were doing when they raced past you on a sunny dirt road deep in bear country.

When I'm in a book, I have to reread what I wrote the day before. This is because I write everything in the order it happens and when I get to the end, I stop. My outline is loose and open. I very rarely write scenes out of order and stitch them together.

This leads to a lot of revision and rewriting but it seems to work for me.

I do recommend fifty words a day. It's not much. But it gets you started and they can be on any topic.

David Trammel's picture

I tend to write my scenes as they come to me. I find that during the regular non-writing time of the day, my mind is still going over my stories. sometimes a particular scene gets stuck in my mind, or a part of one does, and I need to write it down to get it off the blackboard so to speak. Sometimes those scenes get re-worked before I include them, sometimes they get thrown out completely.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Ken mentioned morning pages above... I did those for quite awhile as a variation on being an avid diarist/journal keeper. Dreams are my favorite morning pages. I've kept dream journals as part of my journal keeping for quite awhile -and I was very devoted to dreamwork for awhile.

Sometimes a dream hits and it's a real gift. Write it down and keep going. Writing dreams down becomes a rich source of material, a treasure trove, and a way to get into dialog with your subconscious. The imagery is rich and a lot of it can be used for stories in progress or the beginning of something new.

I just saw this today from C. M. Mayo, published author & sometimes commenter on Ecosophia. She has an excellent writing blog. In her recent post she writes:

"If you’re ever flummoxed for something to write about, a rich source of narratives you can do endless permutations upon are fables and fairytales. Something is at stake, characters are at odds— go to it! Make the fox who doesn’t want sour grapes, say, a stockbroker who doesn’t want that condo in Aspen. Make the princess and the pea a university student who tweets about her upset with outrageously insensitive professors. Rename the tortoise Ludovika and make her a STEM major; the rabbit, that’s her cuz, Jimmy the Adderall-addicted skateboarder. And so on."

Dreams & fairy tales, myths, etc can be used in all kinds of creative ways.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Turn off the phone. Log out of social media. Read no blogs. Try not to comment on anything. Get bored. Don't watch TV. Don't read any books. Get bored. Settle into the quietude. Go for a long solitary walk, several miles if possible. Take a pocket note book and pen. Allowing things to bubble up in the mind. Write them down. Get moving with ideas. Perhaps in these are the seeds for future pieces or the next jigsaw for a current puzzle.

Again, speaking to Ken's point above, I believe Julia Cameron's second book in the Artists Way series was Walking in this World. It's been a long time since I looked at it, but I do believe writing and walking go very well together. As the body moves ideas from the subconscious tend to bubble up.