When the Story Calls . . . And When it Doesn't

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I'm sorry for not posting last week! I was without power for half the week due to a tornadic wind shear that swept through my town. I blogged about the storm and shared some pictures HERE on my group blog!

On to this week's post!

I was glancing through my writing pins on Pinterest and came across two that I really love. But interestingly, both pins showed the dichotomy of the writer's life.

One said this: "But a lot of writers - and I'm one of them - do tend to feel dissatisfied. It makes you a little hard to live with, but it's a goad and does keep you alert and restless." - Tobias Wolff

There's a lot of truth packed into that quote, namely that when writers really submerge themselves into their story, when the words are flowing, and when the characters come alive, it becomes increasingly difficult to tear away from that other-world.

When I'm writing, I don't want to stop. I'm there living in a different time and place with people I've come to care about in a story that twists and turns and grips my heart. I don't want to leave to come back to reality.

But . . . of course reality always calls me out of the story-world. It drags me into the here-and-now. And then as the pin above says, I feel dissatisfied and restless. I'm distracted easily. My kids have been known to ask me a question and wait for an answer as I stare into space. Other times I'm rushing through housework so that I can return to my story.

The other pin that I really like said this: "Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on." Louis L'Amour

The dichotomy of the writing life is that as many times as the words flow and we can't pull ourselves out of our writing, there are just as many times when the words seem stuck, or at least they trickle out slower than a turtle jogging through peanut butter.

It's on those kind of days I heed the advice of this pin: "Clean the house before you start writing because as soon as you sit down you're going to want to scrub the floor, wash the dishes, and empty the litter box."

Yes, there are plenty of times when I sit down before my lap top, pull up my WIP, and I start thinking of everything else I need to do. I go make more coffee and get a snack, and when I come back I decide that's the perfect time to dust the crumbs out of my keyboard.

When I finally start typing, I eke out a few sentences at a time, deleting more than I actually write. My daily word count goal looms before me like Mount Everest–an impossible climb.

That's the life of a writer. There are days when the story flows and the sweetness of it makes reality look bleak in comparison. But then there are days when I'd rather scour the toilet than put words on the page.

So what's a writer to do with such a schizophrenic muse? 

What I've learned over time, is that I don't need to let my temperamental muse discourage or frustrate me. I've accepted the fact that the writing life has both the really, really good days. And the really, really not-so good days.

Instead, I do what any serious write must do: I put my fingers on the keyboard and I type whether I feel like it or not, whether the muse shows up or is out to play. I make myself write words when they won't be found. And I make myself quit when they won't leave me alone.

Such is the writers life–the emptiness, the filling, and the pouring out. It's a cycle that never ends. And I embrace it for all its worth.

What's the writer's life like for you? Have you experienced times when the words flow fast and times when they trickle? How do you handle such a schizophrenic muse?


  1. One of the many things I enjoy about your blog is that you help me realize the things I wrestle with as a writer are quite common. Why are those keyboard crumbs so noticeable when I'm trying to crank out another chapter? They never seem to bother me when I'm wandering around the internet. Thanks for the reminder that being a writer means showing up everyday and working hard, even when our muse is not cooperating. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

    1. LOL! I hear you Heidi! Those crumbs are always so much glaring when I'm writing, but never noticeable when I'm on Pinterest! :-) Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving too! :-)

  2. I bind my muse in iron chains, stick a plate of cheese in front of it's face, and throw my headphones on. It only take a little priming to get a well used pump spilling water, eh?

    1. Cyrstal, I definitely have fewer times now that my muse goes out to play. I have that thing fairly well-trained from constant use! But I will say that when I have events in my life (like the big storm and losing the power), it's much harder to lasso the muse and make her sit and work! :-)

    2. *Crystal* palm slap! (Sorry for misspelling! Long day!)

  3. I cannot begin to thank you for expressing the poignant pattern of the writing life so well. The emptiness, filling, and pouring out, and that's just in the story world, not to mention the expectations of reality.

    I'm currently waiting (yet another common occurrence for a writer) to hear back from an interested agent, but even if I never hear back, I'll keep on writing, because I can't stop myself.

    1. Yes, another common occurrence is waiting! But you're right! The only way I've ever got through my waiting (and I still wait!), is by writing. Writing keeps me sane and sometimes drives me crazy! :-)

  4. I tend not to write much. The fear of succeeding is pretty crippling as is the need to write blog posts or organize my vinyl and book collection. :-) Some days I just want to do it, other days fear grips me pretty badly. When I do write it is a beautiful thing.

  5. I have never tried to control my muse; if I didn't feel like writing, I didn't. But then this month I had two weeks of holidays and I wanted to finish the second draft of my book. So I chained myself to my desk, AND I DID IT! I was so proud, and now I have a complete book in my hands! I will now try and be more consistent. I think planning more thoroughly before writing will help too. And just finding things that inspire me and using them to push me along.


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!