How Much Fun is Shoveling Sludge?

I began writing my first book when I was 15 or 16. It was never published, but then, it was never meant to be. My best friend and I used to amuse ourselves at sleepovers by taking turns writing chapters for this book, which was really no more than writing the fantasies of two teenaged girls set to three-ring binder paper...

The plot was simple. I’d become a famous rock star and she’d marry a famous rock star. It was fun and most days I couldn’t wait to get home from school to work on it. Even my homework became secondary. The only thing in my life that didn’t get put on the shelf was my music, because, after all, I would never become that rich and famous rock star if I didn’t make the music. By the time I graduated from high school I had a huge body of songs, some of them pret-ty darned good, too, and I embarked on a music career. The book got put in a box in my dad’s garage when life started shoving its ugly army boots down my throat. Married at 18, then a 19 year-old widow with a two-week-old baby. Pretty heavy stuff for a kid who'd never even considered marriage and kids as a viable life choice.

A few years later, in 1982, I found the handwritten manuscript, dusted it off and, feeling nostalgic and missing the relative simplicity of my high school years, I read it. It was pretty awful, but I thought it had promise. I’ve always been a ravenous reader and I thought that with work, it might become something good. I rented an IBM Selectric and started rewriting. Once it was done, however, it went back into the box. I’d written the darn thing, but I had no confidence as a writer.

Many years later I found it again and read it. It was still pretty awful, but at least there was some character development and it was no longer schoolgirl fantasies. The characters were lucid and it had a real plot. I reworked nearly aspect and, although it still needed major technical help, it was a good story.

In 2008 that story came back to me. I’d long since lost the manuscript, but I remembered it well enough to believe it could be a good premise for an actual book. By that time I’d written a novel and had become a prolific blogger, so I’d learned a lot more about writing. I sat down to write. The story that had followed me around nearly my entire life was the basis of what would eventually become Beyond The Bridge: A Rock & Roll Series. Of course, very little of it would be recognizable to my old high school friend these days if she were to read it.

But my point of all this is to address the problem of writing being fun. Or not. When my only purpose was to fantasize about my most cherished dreams coming true, I had a great time writing hours upon hours. I couldn’t wait to write, in fact, and I stayed up well past my bedtime, risking my mother’s wrath to do it. I believed there was something magical in the act of writing the story down, as if setting my dreams to paper would somehow make them manifest themselves in real life. Well, I’m older now and, although those dreams refuse to die, I’m never going to be a famous rock star. Now that I’m writing the final installment, it has become a lot of work. Have I lost my motivation? Has life finally strangled the dreams out of me? Why am I writing and who am I writing for?

It’s easy to pin blame: my health, the dog, family demands, Mercury in retrograde… but the truth is, I lack self-discipline and motivation when something isn’t fun. To write simply because I have to finish what I started doesn’t inspire me. I can do it, but I don’t enjoy it, and I’d like to enjoy writing again. But as my friend and fellow writer RW Spryszak once so aptly described his own artistic process, finishing this project is like “shoveling sludge”. Just as I remove one shovelful of muck, two more fall back into the hole. It’s exhausting.

Oh, sure. The whole world has its problems and I’m well aware of the fact that my case of writers block doesn’t mean a thing in the Big Picture, but it’s my creativity, my work, my block, and it’s important to me. What I need to do is find some way to make it fun again. I had a blast writing Book One. It was new and I was fresh. Book Two was harder; I sweat blood over it. I had hopes that as the center of the story, it would act as an energetic force and somehow propel me over the top, into Book Three. So far, that’s not happening and I’m a bit miffed, disappointed, and feeling more than a little burnt out. People tell me to give it a rest, take a break, but now that I have a possible miniseries whispering to me from the west coast, that’s impossible. I’m feeling pressured and driven, but without the energy I need to sustain.

So how does one make writing fun again? Is it even important that it be fun? I know it’s a mind thing and that I need to find a way to psyche myself into enjoying the process, but it’s hard. If you’re a writer, how do you inspire yourself to shovel sludge?