Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Writing is Hard

Okay, I started thinking about this post at 10:00 pm Sunday night after having spent a week of 10 hour days editing/revising my latest opus. I’d been determined to get it out the door to my agent before I went to bed Sunday night—wouldn’t it be cool if it was the first e-mail she saw Monday morning?—but bleary-eyed, lightheaded, barely able to think at 10:00 p.m., and feeling a little sick after consuming nothing but snacks (most of them healthy, but snacks nonetheless) all day, I conceded I needed one more day to finish. Feeling somewhat defeated, the title of this blog post popped into my head.

That writing is hard shouldn’t really be a big surprise, yet I think to many people it is. I mean, everyone writes, right? We all had to do it in school. Many of us do it in our non-writing day jobs. We all tell stories to each other in one way or another, so how hard could it be to actually write them down? I mean, it’s just about discipline, right?


Sure, discipline plays a big part of it. You need to get your ass in a chair, your fingers on a keyboard and just plow through it to some extent. That’s certainly the first very important step—the step most people never get through. But will that result in a great, well-written novel that readers (who don’t know you) won’t be able to put down? Possible, but not likely.

I guess I believe (because I’ve heard the stories), there are writers whose books just pour out of them. And I’ve had days like that. Days when my fingers can barely keep up with the story unfolding in my head.

But given all I’ve learned about the craft of writing (and I still feel like I’m scratching the surface, there), I also believe it’s highly unlikely that whatever pours out of me (or any writer) in that way will be the best work they can produce. Sure, sometimes it’s good enough. But can we really produce consistently great stories that way… I don’t think so.

So, we edit. We fine tune.

We critique each scene—does it do enough? We consider our characters’ motivations—are they clear enough, or conversely so obvious they’re trite or cliché. We consider the conflict and tension on every page—can we make it stronger? We critique other aspects of our storytelling—do turning points happen when they should? Are we repeating ideas? Are we beating some aspect of characterization to death such that the reader wants to yell, “We get it!” at the book? How’s the pacing? Is it gripping? Are the characters real or flat?

We critique our prose—have we made careful word choices, varied our sentence structure, trimmed redundancies and otherwise unnecessary words? Or conversely, have we over-edited to the point of removing all sense of voice and/or style from our work. Have we over or underused purposeful repetition, alliteration, similes, metaphors?

And this is just a short list of what we as writers do to make sure our final product is quality work.

Easy? I think not.


Margaret Moore said...

Yep, writing is definitely more difficult for writers because we care so much (too much, sometimes, I think!) about getting the words right. It's not enough just to get the general gist down on paper. Me, I even rewrite my grocery list if I don't think it's organized properly!

Sinead M said...

A lot easier when I had no clue what I was doing. Now, damn hard..

Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Christine said...

Grr...Blogger at my response. Basically I said I agree. :)

And then there was some crying and moaning, and even a little wonder Blogger ate the response.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Blogger is sucking right now!!! I've tried to post something every day -- each message more witty and entertaining than the last and TODAY I finally get accepted by almighty blogger and all i have the energy to say is-

Yep. This !@#$ is hard.

I'm starting a new project and I have that willy nilly tough to sleep what am I doing feeling -- I knod of like it. I taught an on line class last week and during one of the days I talked about some craft stuff that I thought Harlequin/Silhouette were trying to adopt and one of the writers asked "how am I actually supposed to get any writing done if I'm constantly worried about all this stuff?"

It's true. How are we?

Maureen McGowan said...

RE Molly's question... You know what? I go back to: It's hard. Either you get lucky with talent and luck and a great story just miraculourly and spontaneously pours out of you. Or.... it's work. I mean every other job is considered a job, it's recognized that there's actually work involved. Why not writing? Why is it that so many people think it's supposed to be easy or somehting you can do in your spare time???? Sorry, I'm ranting.

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