Laying Tracks

When writing becomes work


My mom is a voracious reader of mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, and the occasional romance. Yet, as much as she loves to read a good tale, she doesn’t have the slightest urge to write one. We’ve talked about this many times, since I can’t imagine going too long without writing. I get moody when I go on even a short writing hiatus.

But as much as I need to write, it isn’t always a joy. It’s not always me and my muse ticking away at the keyboard. I’ve mentioned before that my muse is fickle and would much rather sit back and drink Moscow Mules than get down to business.

This worked fine when I was writing the occasional short story, but as I’ve transitioned into novels, I can’t afford to work in fits and starts because I have too many words to write. Publishers, editors, and readers are all waiting on me.

It’s taken me a long time, but these days, if my muse doesn’t show up, I still push myself to put the words on paper. I call this process “laying tracks.” It’s grunt work, and it isn’t easy.

When my flighty muse is available, I can type close to 1,500 words an hour. But when it’s being, well, flighty, I can spend hours getting 1,000 words on paper. It’s agonizing — the prose feels like it’s being pulled from my body one syllable at a time. I’m always sure I’ll have to discard 99 percent of what I write during this time.

I never do.

Truth is, those words are just as solid as the ones I so effortlessly throw down with my muse. I’m not sure if that was always the case, but more often than not, it is now.

Still, laying tracks feels like work. Hard work. There’s nothing worse than spending hours doing something that normally takes you minutes. It’s frustrating and produces lots of anxiety. Am I losing my touch? Why isn’t my muse showing up? Why is this so hard?

For me, this is simply part of the process. My muse drops by, energizes me, and then jets off to some exotic location and leaves me to do the grunt work. At first, I despaired. I mean, I didn’t have this problem with short stories, so I shouldn’t have it now, right?

Yeah, well. Life doesn’t work like that. I bet there are some writers with reliable, diligent muses who consistently find writing to be a joy. I have yet to meet that writer, but I’m sure she’s out there.

Still, I love to write and find it incredibly satisfying. And even when I’m laying tracks, I know that I’ll eventually reach my destination and the book will have its day. In the end, that makes every hour worth it.

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