You’re not a train

Say you’re sitting down to write a new project and it’s just … not working. You’ve got a deadline coming up, but that doesn’t seem to be helping. You’re going through all of your usual tricks to get words on the page, and the blinking cursor still taunts you.

The thing is, you’re not a train. You’re not stuck to a single track. There’s more than one way to get from point A to point B.

Trains can only go where the tracks have been laid, and the tracks themselves have to follow a bunch of rules: no turns tighter than such-and-such. No inclines steeper than so-and-so. They need this much track to get up to speed, and this much to stop, and if they come off the tracks, they’re in big trouble. Anything from a cow to an avalanche can ruin everything, up to and including your perfect murder plot on the Orient Express.

But you’re not a train.

That’s one of the reasons there are so many “how to write” books out there. Maybe a bunch of writers agree on certain sets of train tracks, and there’s a lot of traffic there, and maybe they even usually work for you, but the world is so much more than train tracks. There are paved roads, and dirt roads, and trails through the woods, and not only are you capable of off-roading when necessary, you can even fly. You’re a drone with controls in the hands of a master.

Not a train.

I fall into this, too: thinking that, since x, y, and z have worked well for me in the past, they’re the only paths I have. The only ones I know. The only way to get from point A (the blank screen) to point B (the completed manuscript.)

As though I haven’t read (and rejected) other ways of writing, and I haven’t heard about other apps and technology, and there’s no pen or paper in the house.

When you get stuck with writing, the best thing is to stop trying to force it and take some time away. Deadlines don’t always allow for that, so the second best thing is to stop trying to force it this way and try another approach. Instead of cutting straight on through, the way you always have, look for a different path to see if it’ll skirt the issue and get you where you need to be.

It’s like the old rhyme about going on a bear hunt, except you can go under it. Or around it. Or over it. You’re not forced to always stay on the same tracks and always go through it.

You’re not a train.

The tracks are there, and well-known, and comfortable, but if they’re not meeting your needs right now … leave them. Seek out the path that’ll get you where you need to be, because sometimes plowing through the trees gets you there faster than continuing to inch painfully along the tracks.

(With apologies to my brother, who might actually be a train. He works at the Strasburg Railroad, and that’s him in the front. He’s even written a book about trains and how to make your own.)

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