Friday, August 13, 2010

When Writing is Hard

Jeff Daniels, actor and author of fourteen plays, said, “Writing is hard. Writing well is very, very hard.”

Raise your hand if you agree. Ah, you… and you, and you. I’ll raise my hand too because sometimes I find writing is terribly hard business. Not all the time, no, but occasionally.

Are we whiners? Author Garrison Keillor thinks so. He says of writers who tell others how agonizing it is for them to get words on paper, “It's the purest form of arrogance…” He goes on to state that writers don’t have a monopoly on hard work. Writing is no harder, and probably a lot less difficult, than any other occupation. Writers, he says, should quit our “self-involved moaning over the agonies” of our art.

Feeling chagrined yet? I was, but then I found another view on why writing is hard work, this one from author Gerald Weinberg. He argues that writing is hard if you don’t want to write. He’s referring to those things we put off writing time after time. Chances are it probably doesn’t need writing in the first place, specifically, the pointless, boring, superfluous writing that should never see the light of day. That kind of writing is the result of writers not wanting to write. He says. “If it's that hard, drop it and get on with something fun.”

This all hits home with me today because I’m struggling with a scene for my novel. I’m not talking about writer’s block. I’m talking about knowing exactly what I want to write and not being able to do it. Yes, I want to whine about it, I want pats on the back, and encouragement from fellow writers. Why else would I “moan over the agonies of my art”? (If the convenience store clerk can complain about his feet hurting after standing all day at the register, why can’t I complain too?)

Weinberg’s words worry me somewhat. I’m beginning to wonder if the reason I whine is because I want confirmation that what I’m doing needs to see the light of day. Maybe it doesn’t. Is this scene resisting me because it doesn’t need writing? Niggling doubts wedge themselves into my thoughts as I sit stymied at the computer.

Even so, I’m not ready to give up on the scene because I believe in it, and because I believe in myself. I’m not adrift with an aimless goal nor am I’m floundering because I don’t know what needs to be done. I’ve reached a place in my writing where I’m going places I haven’t dared go both creatively and technically. I’m experiencing growing pains, if that makes sense.

So writing well is very, very hard at times and I do grumble and grouse about it, if only to be encouraged by my friends and fellow writers.

Do you find writing difficult, or is it your playground, a perpetually carefree place to play with your characters? If it is hard, why not pull a Weinberg and find something else to write about, or hey, take up a new interest like watching goldfish swim in a bowl? Personally, I’ll endure the “agonies of my art” and leave the goldfish-watching to fainter hearts.


  1. Susan, I almost always find the first 15-30 minutes of any writing session hard. After that, it often gets easier. It's the sitting down to write part that's hard. You just have to push through. Sometimes it goes like that all day, but those days don't happen too often, thankfully.

    Been reading two great books on the subject lately. THE WAR OF ART, by Steven Pressfield. If you want a kick in the pants to help you get down to creative business, this is it. And also THE SCENE BOOK, A Primer for the Fiction Writer, by Sandra Scofield. An excellent book on writing that basic component of novels.

  2. Lori, I find the first half hour to be hard too. It takes a bit to settle down and get into the groove of writing. I'll look for the books you recommended. They sound like good ones.


  3. Susan, writing is HARD, thus deserves to be whined about. (g)

    Just last week I read an article (it was linked via someone's blog, and do you think I can remember who that was ??!!) where the central point was that if you find writing easy, all the time, then you're not doing it right. Writing should be difficult, it should be challenging, you should agonise over important decisions such as whether a whole subplot needs to be cut, or indeed, a whole character ... facing down the hard stuff is the only way you get to the good stuff, to the gold. I really think this is true, at least in my own experience.

    I second Lori with her recommendation of THE SCENE BOOK (and must pick up THE WAR OF ART, sounds great!) Another great book that's all about how to harness the fear and anxiety that writing can induce is THE COURAGE TO WRITE by Ralph Keyes. An excellent and inspiring book, IMO.

  4. Thanks Rachel, I'm glad I'm not the only one who has to face down the hard stuff now and then. I'm still struggling with that pesky scene.

    I've got three books added to my Must Be Read list now. :)


  5. I agree, Rachel, that it's not worth it if its not difficult and you're not constantly learning and pushing the envelope and all that.
    But I need my whining time too! Today's rant is all "I don't want to go back and write the difficult scenes from the beginning of the book!" I want to play in the later bits, where my characters have grown

  6. Susan,

    Writing IS hard work. Anyone who says it isn't is a liar. LOL.

    I once wrote a 10K scene... I think I had the beginning...some bits at the end... and a HUGE gap in the middle. I knew what I wanted to happen but for whatever reason it wouldn't come out in a logical fashion.

    I literally wrote that sucker one line at a time, backwards. I kid you not. It had to be the most painful experience in my writing career. I wanted to cry, I wanted to tear my hair out, but mostly I wanted to chuck that puppy and go do something that wouldn't prematurely age me. (g) That said, I finished... and yanno what? It turned out to be a pretty kick ass scene.

    Sometimes things don't flow easily. That doesn't always mean that what you're writing is wrong, that you shouldn't be doing this as a career... etc etc. Those doubts will always be there -- I think they're par for course when you're a writer -- but sometimes you just have to plow ahead, under the belief that the scene you're writing NEEDS to exist. And if you get it out and find out later that you were wrong? Well, you got through it...and proving that you can is just as important. :)