Starting From A Dead Stop

In which the author waxes reflective about trains and writing and starting from stopped.

Starting From A Dead Stop

I don’t know much about trains.

More specifically, I don’t know much about steam locomotives. There’s a train in Murder on the Orient Express and one in Back to the Future Part III and I’m sure there’s some western/cowboy heist movie where a train plays an important role – like say The Great Train Robbery (see the 1903 silent film or Crichton’s book into movie).

And there’s always Horror on the Orient Express by Chaosium for some Eldritch Dread, though not a movie. Or The Polar Express, which only has a wee bit of terror in it…

But none of those references are why I’m thinking about trains (and how little I know about them).

The essentials I know about trains – steam locomotives that is – are that they are loud and powerful, they require tracks to travel on, they don’t stop quickly or easily – and they take a good deal of effort to get going from a dead stop.

That last bit is what has me thinking about trains. It’s the ember of encouragement that I take out of the firebox when I find myself where I am at the time of this writing: Having not written much of anything of substance for a good while.

Now the mechanical/technical specifics elude me – and I’m not going to look them up – but I know from my extensive experience watching film that when the locomotive is standing there cold and dead, you need to start a fire and begin shoveling coal into it.

Once you start feeding the fire, that behemoth of iron and wheels and smoke is going to stir. Slowly. Groaningly lethargic. With a lurch forward in that jerking-tumble gait – chug……chug….chug…chug, chug, chug, chugchugchug. Rousing itself like a great beast stirring from a winterlong sleep (that last simile is overly florid, I suppose I could cross it out on an edit…)

(And right about now I begin to wonder if I have written something like this before for you, Dear Reader, because déjà vu is part of the condition of starting from a dead stop…)

But, Author! take up thy thread!

When I haven’t written for a long time, it can feel like I’ll never write again. Because writing is hard.

Glen Cook was once asked by Jeff VanderMeer in an interview if any particular book he had written was harder than another, he replied:

Whatever I happen to be working on at the moment is the hardest goddamn thing I’ve ever wrestled with. I grow to hate it. I know it sucks.

That sounds about right, especially at the outset. But if you keep going, Cook goes on to say:

And, usually, when I read it after I’ve had a chance to forget it, I’m pleasantly surprised.

But I have to get going to be “pleasantly surprised.” And along the way, especially in those first few moments, I’m invited to be disgusted and discouraged at my initial ineptness. But indulging such thoughts would be silly and more than a little wasteful.

No, I have to write.

And not just a little – though that’s usually how one has to start. I have to write enough that I can actually have something to read. It has to take me time to consume it, to assure me that, yes, indeed, I did write substance. I have to write even when it feels like I’m a lurching, clanking, grinding, plodding, noisome, clumsy, never-going-to-get-this-thing-up-to-speed locomotive.

I can fill the coalbox with inspiration. I can revisit my notes and my drafts and my daydreams. But the man must stand in the engine room, take up his shovel, and put his back into it with the steady persistence it takes to keep a fire fed (and, oh, is it a hungry beast).

For if he does, the fire will surely burn. And that train.

It. Will. Go.

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Well met, Traveller into Perilous Realms. I am your guide Bryan Rye, Game Master and Author. Stay awhile and let us speak of many things.

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