Easy reading is damn hard writing. – Nathaniel Hawthorne
From the outside, writing doesn’t look too hard. After all, I spent eight to ten hours a day on my computer, doing the thing I love most in the world. What could be difficult about that? I get to research unique and interesting things and tell the stories that I want to tell. It’s the dream job.
And it is the dream job, but it’s sure as hell not an easy one.
There’s an idea that floats around writing circles that we’re all embarrassed by our earlier work. This is true of the greats and the amateurs, poets, essayists, novelists and journalists alike. The early notebooks or articles we published way back at the beginning of our careers made us grimace and blush. I’m just now beginning to understand why that’s a good thing, why we want to have a little bit– not too much– embarrassment about our early work. It means we’ve grown immensely as writers.
And with that growth, comes the realization that writing is a hell of a lot harder than it seems. My earliest novellas and short stories weren’t bad, not by any stretch. But they came out last May and the difference between the writer I was then and the writer I am now is remarkable.
I have learned craft and editing from talented and capable editors, written many, many more words and faced writing challenges that I had not faced this time last year, once that helped forge me into a strong writer with a wider variety of skills and abilities.
And that’s how it should be. Because if writing feels easy, there’s a good chance you’re not doing it right. Sure, some books come more easily than others, the research simple and the words flowing, but that doesn’t make it easy. There are so many intertwined elements of writing a book, between the outlining, the researching, the writing, the rewriting, and the editing, that there is a guaranteed point you, as the author will hit, where you wonder why in the hell you thought this was a good idea.
These moments make us better writers. Editing a full-length novel from the inside out strengthens my skills in storytelling and editing for continuity. Revising a character dynamic forces me to look more deeply at my protagonists to better form full, three-dimensional people in a two-dimensional medium.
Even when the writing gods smile down upon me for the entirety of my journey, which they very rarely do, there will still be days where I doubt, I struggle and I question. Maybe it’s the plot and maybe it’s the style and maybe it’s me.
There will be moments of panic when I have to reconcile a major change with the amount of work that it will take– yes, the book will be better, but at what cost? (The cost is always my sleep and my sanity.) For the amount of hours that I spend sweating and falling asleep over my keyboard, the amount of cups of coffee, the amount of journals I fill with disparate notes and edits and changes and dates and names, the final product will almost seem unreasonably small. Just a book, at the end of all that?
But of course, it’s so much more than a book. And of course, all that struggle and fight and creative turmoil is worth it to produce a story entirely of my own making, to build a world and sculpt people and get readers invested enough to laugh or cry or throw my book across the room.
No, writing isn’t easy. And the more I do it, the harder it will get. I will and do hold myself to a higher standard, I will take on the difficult, time-consuming edits, I will do line editing one more time, just in case.
Because at the end of the day, we’re not writing because it’s easy. Hell, if we wanted easy we’d pick just about anything else. No, we’re not writing because it’s easy, we’re writing because we don’t have a damned choice. It’s who we are and what we do and when the writing gets harder, it just means that we’re getting better at it. ♦