Slow Drips vs Sump Pumps

Many writers I respect recommend a practice of daily writing. The daily drip helps you improve as a writer and slowly works on you and your readers. I admire people who publish consistently, every day, and have gone through seasons of trying this practice on for size, but it’s never been a consistent practice for me.

Rather than the daily drip, I’ve often felt like writing is more like a sump pump. My tank slowly with fragments and thoughts and snippets, then once the tank is full it comes pouring out over a short season. And after emptying, the tank is dry and any attempts at output feel less productive.

I appreciated the quote from Sam Anderson’s profile of writer John McPhee (shared recently by Austin Kleon), who compares his writing practice to crop rotation:

During a semester when he teaches, McPhee does no writing at all. When he is writing, he does not teach. He thinks of this as “crop rotation” and insists that the alternation gives him more energy for writing than he would otherwise have.

How do you write, or do your creative work? In small daily drips, or seasonal sump pumps floods? And if you’re currently spinning your wheels at your practice, is it time to take a step back, rotate the crops, and re-approach your craft in the next season?



All metaphors are imperfect but, as Greg pointed out, the “sump pump” metaphor might have a fatal misleading flaw.

Filling your tank is essential. So are breaks, rest, sabbaticals. But the output of a sump pump is very unlike the creative output. Water gushing out of a sump pump is sudden, rushed, violent. The effective creative practice, in my experience, looks indeed more like a slow, steady drip. Greg compared it to endurance sports, where slow sustained effort is required, and short bursts of effort can knock you out of the game.

Fill your tank, then release it, slowly.