Is writing hard?
Edna O’ Brien asked me this once. At a residency during my MFA, Edna O’Brien, author of The Country Girls, asked what I thought was a rhetorical question. Then she kept looking at me. The room grew silent and everyone else started to look at me, too. So, she actually wanted an answer? My face warmed and I mumbled the first thing that came to mind: “Sometimes, but not always.”
I know. Just the sort of brilliant answer you want to give in front of a room of your fellow students and writers, to a famous author. My embarrassment faded as she put others on the spot and they stumbled just as gloriously. But later, I thought more about the question, and I became convinced that my answer actually was a good one.
Is writing hard? Sometimes, but not always. There are those sweet moments when you get into the flow and the words just come without much coaxing. Then there are times when writing is painful and slow and every word takes minutes of thought. Both can happen within the same writing session.
I’ve also argued that writing well is hard. It’s nothing to just sit and spew words upon the page, but to make them feel like poetry, to weave a story grand enough to draw your readers in and keep them there? Not as easy. Then again, does it matter much?
This debate comes up every year around NaNoWriMo. The debate about whether or not it’s a good idea to write fast or if it makes for a bad story. I don’t think it matters, either way.
In the end, it all comes down to one thing. Editing. It doesn’t matter how awful your first draft is. You can make it better. Sure, writing better will cause less time and heartache when it’s revision time, but no matter how atrocious a first draft is, it can be fixed. There is a quote that is my writing-life scripture:
You can fix anything but a blank page. – Nora Roberts
That’s all you need to know. If you write badly, so what? You’re writing. If you write an awesome novel in 30 days in November, great! If you write a terrible novel, great! Both will need to be edited. But the more important point is, you now have written a novel. Do the naysayers who preach against NaNoWriMo have a shiny new book at the start of December? Probably not. Because fear of failure is almost as bad as fear of rejection.
You can make writing easier. The first time you looked at a smartphone, it was confusing and took you a minute to get oriented. Now, you could navigate to your favorite app with your eyes closed. Things get easier with time and practice. There is a fabulous quote by Ira Glass that’s been circulating on the web:
See his point? Just write. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be made. Here’s how to make writing easier:
- Write more. Novels, shorts stories, poems. Just practice putting words on the page.
- Get disciplined about it—have a regular time in which you sit and write every day.
- Read more. In your genre especially, but also outside of your genre.
- Read about writing. There are a gazillion books on the craft of writing. Read them all and try everything they say. (Try because not everything works for everyone).
- Get feedback. How else will you know if you actually suck or not? You need critique partners and readers to help you find the rough spots.
- Listen to advice. When you get one of these critique partners or readers, listen to what they say. It’s all subjective, yes, but if a more experienced writer keeps telling you to use less adverbs, you better at least Google it to learn why.
- Learn everything you can. Books, blogs, discussions, are all opportunities to grow. Ask your fellow writers questions, share your fears. Immerse yourself completely in the writing life until writing is so natural to you, it’s like breathing.
Do all these things. Go forth and write. Even it’s bad. Even if it’s hard.