Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Is Your Well Primed? (Productivity)

Have you ever pumped water from a hand pumped well? If you haven't, you should find someone with an old well and experience it. There are some wonderful life lessons in such a simple piece of technology.
Dad & me 10 years before pump lesson.
My dad bought a campsite at Bates Pond in rural South Carver when I was young. He told us how much fun camping would be. He lied. Water came from a pump on top of a pipe sticking out of the ground. Dad explained about "the immense pool of ground water below us" and how I had to take my turn working the pump handle to keep the family's water supply up for everything from drinking to cooking to bathing. All I knew was that my arms and shoulders burned after fifteen minutes of my one hour chore.

The last responsibility at the end of each pumping session was to fill a metal bucket with fresh water and set it on the nearby picnic table.

One hot day, it was my turn on the pump. There sat the bucket of clean, fresh water, and I had just finished a long hike deep into the woods. I was mighty thirsty. That water hit the spot. I drank from the bucket, letting excess water spill past my cheeks to cool my chest. Most of it ended up on the ground. I didn't care. Figured I'd just refill the bucket when I was done.

I began working the pump handle, but nothing came out. In fact, the handle moved with unusual ease.

"Daddy!" I shouted for help. "Daddy, the pump's broken."

My father set down his axe and came to my aid. He lifted the handle a couple times.

"No problem, son. Hand me the bucket of water."

"Umm . . . there isn't any bucket of water."

"Sure there is. It's on the bench over there."

I soon got a heated lecture on why that bucket of water was so important. He explained how manual pumps worked, saying that we had to "prime" them by pouring water into the valve body. Then, he told me, the pump could build a suction and lift water up from the pool ground water. To complete my lesson, he handed me two buckets, each with a single wire handle, and sent me down to the local lake to fetch priming water. I asked why two buckets. He explained that one was needed to prime the well, and the other was needed to make sure I never screwed up like that again. It worked. The wire handles cut painfully into the meat of my palms during the one mile walk back from the lake. I could only walk a hundred yards at a time before having to massage my hands.

What does this have to do with writing?
Writing is no different than the old style, manual pump design. Sometimes our literary "pump" loses its "prime" and needs a little help to regain the ability to pull from our vast pool of creativity. I took the lesson dad taught me as a child and applied it to my writing. I always leave a surplus bucket of ideas at the end of each writing session to help prime my writing well after I have been away for a while.

Here is an example of that concept. Let's say I wrote the paragraph (below) before going to bed. I would add "priming" notes (in parentheses) for when I return to the story:

The children played quietly in the car while Megan and I argued about our child custody agreement. Neither of us noticed when the car slipped into gear and began rolling toward the lake. I heard the splash and saw Megan's car drifting into deeper water as it nosed down and began to sink.

(Notes:  How do I save the kids? Do I experience the horror of seeing their frightened faces in the rapidly diminishing pocket of air by the back window? What about reviving them if they have drowned? Do they experience brain damage from anoxia? Does Megan feel responsible for not setting the parking brake or leaving the car running? Can I . . . or will I . . . use her negligence against her in the custody battle?)

As you can see from the "priming" notes, I should be able to jump right back into the emotional grist of the story, quickly refreshing the tap into my pool of creativity. This kind of primer notation can diminish "writer's block" and produce increased author efficiency.

Thanks for the lesson, dad. I hated carrying those heavy buckets from the lake, but that simple punishment served me well, as applied the concept many times in life. Miss you, Pop.

Shameful promo:  If you enjoy my writing blogs, please try my book, Ghost of Lost Eagle (western-romance with strong paranormal element). It is getting great reviews.


  1. Excellent post, Dean, and great story!

  2. I just showed my daughter one of those old pumps at Hocking Hills State Park (two young boys were working it--working but wanter was coming up).

    What you're talking about is also common with authors of a series. Very often, after finishing an novel, they will write the first chapter or two of the next novel so that they can pick up more easily where they led of...story, voice, pacing, etc. Because, with editing and waiting for the publisher, or even waiting for an acceptance to the completed novel, a lot of time can pass.

    I do this, usually the first chapter, or few sections of it.

    Good post with excellent illustration to get the point across.

  3. Makes a LOT of sense my man. Great cover btw.

    1. Thanks Sascha. I designed two covers and fans voted for the one above. Appreciate your post...Dean.

  4. I concur totally. Good blog post man. Nice cover on the book btw!

  5. Wonderful advice. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Hi Suzanne,

      Just sharing my personal writing experiences. I'm not right or wrong, just a writer who has found a few things that work for me, and I'm willing to share.

      Thank you for your comment...Dean.

    2. Thank you so much for the memories. Yes, On the ranch we had a water pump,several in fact. we would attach a hose to it and drag the hose to the water troughs. I can still feel the burn in my back and shoulders.I love the analogy of reserving your creative priming. I do this with my poetry but I didn't put the two together. BRILLIANT!

    3. Sterling - I can "feel" your ranch experience coming to the surface. I'm glad the "priming" concept works for you, too, in your writing. Thank you for posting...Dean.


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