Pre-populated: Writing Fully Loaded

by Randy Murray on February 5, 2013

One of the best pieces of advice on writing comes, with no surprise, from Ernest Hemingway:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.

Ernest Hemingway interviewed by George Plimpton in the Paris Review

This it terrific advice. Not just the part about starting writing early in the morning. The more important part is about stopping when you know where you need to go next.

I find that I write the best, the easiest, when I know what I am writing about next. I call it writing fully loaded.

Not loaded as in drunk, but as in ammo, fuel, and supplies. Another term I sometimes use is “pre-populated.” That comes from my many years working in and for software companies. Pre-populated is a computer term meaning a field where a value is entered by default.

My mornings at the keyboard are, in computer terms, pre-populated with things to write about because I wrote the day before and my mind is accustomed to writing. When I don’t write, even just for one day, and heaven forbid, for many days, that first day in front of the blank page can be hell. When I write and come to a point where I don’t know where to go next I need to keep working. I need to figure things out and make those plans and even start them a bit, make sure of my footing and direction. Then I can stop and return another time. I might not follow those plans, but they give me a spring board, a launch ramp, and tomorrow I’m off writing again.

It can be as simple as what I do when planning the editorial calendar for this site. I plan in advance, pick the topics, put them on the calendar, and write a brief line or two about that I want to write about. Then I leave them. When I return, I can quickly use those titles and notes and start writing without fussing or worrying about that old bugaboo, “What am I going to write about?”

Separate that planning from your writing times. Figure out what you’re going to write about another time. When it’s time to write, write. When you have written well and for a long time and know what is next to come, stop and go about your day. Try and live through the day so you can come back and take up what you’ve written, read it, then launch into your writing.

Writer’s block is real, but it doesn’t have to be the Great Wall of China. Get loaded, then tomorrow you will write.

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