One of my Facebook friends today put up a message that said, “Fewer people would take up writing if they knew just how hard it really is.”
She’s right. Writing does look simple, and in fact, when you first start out, very often it is. I have a saying, “Writing is easy, but writing beautifully can be terribly hard.”
It’s much like running a marathon. Traveling 24 miles at a snail’s pace over a period of months is easy. In fact, you’ll do it over the next few months just walking to the bathroom. But if you’re in a tough race, in bad weather, and one of your shoes blows out, that’s when it gets difficult.
The good news is that writing beautifully does get easy again with practice!
Let me explain what is going on. When you first start writing, you very often have low expectations for yourself. You’re writing as a hobby, perhaps, and as you create imaginary characters and have stories take shape in your head, it all seems wondrous.
But when you decide to go pro, to try to get published, the difficulty level of the work increases dramatically. You suddenly find that you need to complete say two or three books per year, and they all have to be written to professional standards.
So you ratchet up your literary sensibilities, you look at your work far more critically, you study the works of your competition, strategize how to work in the current market, and you raise the bar for yourself.
That’s all good. You won’t get anywhere with flabby writing, cardboard characters, and worn plots. Suddenly the writing task becomes real work, sometimes grueling work. As one of my mentors, Orson Scott Card put it, “Sometimes it feels as if I’m bleeding from every pore.”
This “difficult” phase of writing often lasts for years, and in fact, I would go so far as to say that in most novels, you’ll reach critical points where you find that it is much harder than you ever thought it would be. If you’re doing it right, if you’re trying to gain huge audiences and win literary acclaim, you ought to be straining to be your very best.
But there is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I memorized as a teen that has always been of help to me. He said, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.”
In short, if you persist in doing something that feels almost impossible, your ability to do it increases. You begin to internalize the lessons you’re trying to learn, to the point that writing beautifully becomes second nature—and in fact, at a certain point in time, you will feel almost incapable of writing crud. At that point, the fans who read your work will almost feel as if you have magical powers, that you’re doing things no human should be able to do.
There are times when you reach a deep creative state of mind, when you feel almost as if you are living through your story and merely racing to report on it, and writing becomes not only easy, but can even rouse a state of euphoria. Reaching that creative state (the gamma state), requires you to go into a sort of trance. Reaching that state can be learned, and can even be easy to do, unless you have some physical limitation that keeps you from reaching it.
So writing badly is easy. Writing beautifully can sometimes feel impossibly hard—until it all becomes easy again, and incredibly fun.
Composing can be easy, but the more difficult part in career management often has to do with things like marketing. That comes easily for me, but many writers either try to spend too much time marketing, or just try to forget about it altogether.
Then there are some physical challenges, things like travel. That’s a tough one for me. I have chronic allergies to perfumes and hairsprays, along with deodorants and cleaners used in hotel rooms, so each time that I go to a convention I have a good chance of coming down with “con crud” afterward, which generally just means an overall sense of achiness and fatigue.
In fact, a couple of weeks ago I went to a little convention and came home with some bug that just kept getting worse. I didn’t want to let it slow down my writing, so I took vitamins and ignored it, until I finally went to the doctor and found that I had walking pneumonia. No big deal. Writing doesn’t take much physical exertion, right?
So yesterday I got up and decided to spend the Fourth of July writing in the morning before celebrating with the family. I worked for several hours, finished a big project, then sent it to my agent. But all during the writing session I kept feeling more and more ill, so as soon as I got the file off to my agent, I went to the emergency room, where some blood tests showed that in addition to the walking pneumonia, I had developed a secondary infection.
Today I’m feeling much better, so I will celebrate by writing some more!
What am I getting at here? Writing can be hard, and indeed sometimes it should be, but as you grow as a writer, the words begin to flow much more easily.
If you’re going to enter this career, be realistic about the demands.