Pump and Dump Writing
Writing begets writing.
Put down words on a page or screen every single day, think about future blog posts or storylines while you’re taking a shower, read a lot of other people’s words so your brain can pick up creative ways people string them, and it pretty much follows with few exceptions that the words you want — the ones that will go into your own blog posts or short story or novel or memoir or self-help book — will come to you when you need them. It’s not that daily writers don’t get writer’s block, but when they do, it is usually tied to not knowing how to move the plot forward or structure the chapter. Writer’s block like that is akin to staring at the chess board, trying to figure out your best move. So I’m talking about how daily writing will stave off the sort of writer’s block where you stare at the screen, wanting or needing to write, and not knowing how to get started or get back into a long-standing project.
That’s what I mean by writing begets writing.
I approach writing in the same way breastfeeding women deal with their milk supply while on a business trip: pump and dump. (Well, I imagine since I wasn’t actually able to make breast milk.) If they don’t pump, their boobs will hurt and their supply will go down. But they have no place to store the milk or transport it home, so they dump the milk. That milk is only expressed in order to get to the good breastfeeding later. While they may have feelings of regret over the waste, they know going in that a pump and dump is what they need to do to get through the trip.
I do pump and dump writing all the time. This post would have been pump and dump writing except that I ended up posting it.
Even when I don’t have time for it, I sit down for fifteen minutes and just write. Whatever. I don’t think about the quality, I don’t pluck at the words. If I don’t know what I feel like writing, I grab ideas for posts by looking at other blogs or news sites. And then, for a minimum of 15 minutes, I write (usually a blog post, but sometimes the beginning of a short story). And then I dump those words. They served their purpose: to keep the writing fluidity in my mind so I don’t get writer’s block down the road.
Pump and dump.
How long I can go without writing and then still easily write the next time I sit down at the computer depends on how much momentum I’ve built with blog posts or the book. I rate my writing mood on a 10-point system. 1 – 4 means I can’t write or it’s very painful to write. I’m just sitting there, staring at the screen, feeling as if I’m wasting time. 5 – 6 mean that I maybe got a paragraph or two out of a four-hour writing session. 7 is one of those days when I stop and start a lot, but ultimately get a page or two. An 8 is writing at a decent clip. 9 is a fantastic day when I churn out 10 pages (fine, most of it is dialogue, but it still counts) and I know I’m going to keep most of it. 10 is the best writing day ever.
I’ve never reached a 10.
I try to spend most of my time at an 8. 8 is my goal. I find that when I push myself to have a 9-sort-of-day, I usually end up stressed out and not actually reaching a 9. So a 9 comes about unexpectedly. I aim for a good, solid B when it comes to writing.
If I’m consistently writing at an 8, I can take the weekend off and not stress it, and I’ll continue writing at an 8 on Monday. If I’m writing below an 8, I need to spend some time with the project every day of the weekend to keep the momentum going. If I don’t, that level 7 on a Friday becomes a level 5 (or lower!) on a Monday. I would rather take a half hour on Saturday and Sunday to plug away at the scene than waste much more than an hour on Monday not getting writing work done. It’s a trade-off.
I’ve been writing my blog for so long that I could probably take off a week without losing momentum. More than a week without writing a post and I feel a little rusty. Maybe it takes longer to write the next post than it should. So I rarely take a week off. I may not post anything that I write during that week (pump and dump), but I still tap out something in the Notes section of the iPad.
So yes, when people talk about how difficult it is to get momentum going with their blog after taking a break for a bit, I get it. If I took time off, I could write a post here and there, but I wouldn’t be able to have control over my space, filling it somewhat daily. I’d be at the mercy of ideas, and ideas don’t necessarily come when you want them to. So I write daily posts even when I don’t publish daily posts just so I don’t enter that more-difficult-to-write zone.
My advice, if you want to keep a daily blog and are having trouble starting or finishing posts, or you want to write a book but are feeling stuck every time you sit down at the computer: write daily.
Put down the Candy Crush, Facebook, and Twitter and just sit there in front of the screen, even if all you do is stare at the cursor for a half hour. Regardless of what comes out, when the half hour is done, get up from the computer and let it go. Don’t stress about what you wrote (or didn’t write) nor feel too good about what you did write. Good writing one day doesn’t necessarily mean good writing the next, so don’t be too proud of yourself. And a terrible writing experience one day doesn’t necessarily mean that tomorrow will suck too. Just treat writing as if it’s a task you must do to keep up supply: pump and dump, or pump and use. But suck those words out of your brain so that your brain will in turn generate more words for you to use down the road.
That’s really the only way I’ve found to keep writing projects going and not have them become mentally painful down the road. And during the times when I don’t take my own advice, I pay for it when I sit back down to write again. Then I have to slog through levels 1 – 7 before I hit 8 again, though I know the only way to reach 8 is to put in that time, stare at the screen, pump and dump my words.