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Why Writing is so Damn Hard


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Last week, on the amazing Writers Group, we talked about why writing is so friggin' hard. Thomas Mann said that “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” And judging by other writers' comments in the discussion, that's about sums it up. As a student or if you're writing for a specific purpose, writing a 500-word essay about any topic is easy enough: you come up with a couple of arguments for and against, intro paragraph, summary paragraph, and done. I see my kids write stories. It's easy for them: Odysseus climbed up to the cave, killed the dragon, sailed back to Ithaca. Put in a few fronted adverbials, a couple of descriptive words. Done.


I think there are two reasons for that, actually. The first is that writing for someone else is easier because you're less emotionally invested. Generally speaking, the less emotionally invested we are in something, the easier it is to do it. It may not be fun (trust me, I hear endless complaints about writing essays and stories based on the Odyssey). But there's no angst, no dithering, no "what if no one will ever read this?" If they're proud of what they wrote, they bring it home to show it to me. If not, the teacher reads it, marks it, they fix it and move on.


The second reason writing is difficult for writers is that the more you know about writing, the harder it gets. One of our writers said that, not me. But it made perfect sense. The more I learned about writing, the harder it became to sit and write, to let the words flow. I didn't have issues with it before. I wrote my first novel without knowing anything about structure, conflict, or character arc in a few months. Then I started taking my writing more seriously and started reading books about writing and so on. And of course, now I know that this novel needs a lot of work because it has no structure, barely any conflict, and a character arc that isn't so much a rainbow as it is a winding, meandering path that leads basically nowhere.


In other words, writing well is difficult. Writing badly is much easier, apparently.


And yet.


I wonder whether it’s only difficult because I overthink it. Because I’m trying to write a masterpiece before I even finished plotting. Because I try to layer for future scholars my short stories that no one will ever read. Wouldn’t it just be easier if I just wrote a story without worrying about getting this esoteric detail right or making sure my images are layered with symbolic meaning that elevates the story? I’m sure it would be easier, and I wish I knew how to do that first and worry about all the other stuff on the second draft.


I think that is true mastery, and I'm not there yet. True mastery isn't knowing all those things about writing. It's knowing those things and then being able to let them go. Or, probably, knowing them so well that they don't impede the creative process but come naturally into your art. As if they were a part of you all along. And the way to get there is to write more, I guess.


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