Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why is Writing so Hard?

My husband, bless him, believes that I’m talented. This means that he has trouble understanding why I haven’t written ten best-sellers already. “Just write it,” he says, blissfully unaware of the challenges that he’s waving aside so dismissively.

He’s not entirely wrong, of course. To write a book, there is a critical requirement that at some point your butt hits a chair and you write it. No matter what your “process” is, at the end of the day you must translate your ideas and imaginings to paper. However, there is a lot more that goes into the creation of a novel than that, and it is often these invisible considerations that make the task so daunting.

1. First, the writer must overcome “I-Suck-itis.” 

The split second that you start listening to that voice in your head that tells you all your ideas are rubbish and your writing is crap, you are done. While an inflated ego is not required, you do have to have at least a whisper of belief that what you write has merit and will appeal to someone out there. Because we all have good days and bad days, a lot of writing time is lost to those moments when we are grappling with self-doubt. Even disciplined writers with daily quotas have been known to meet those quotas by writing about how badly they suck. Often after a bad review or critique.

2. Next, the writer must address the limitations of an idea. 

You want to write a story about the caretaker of a creepy old house who must fight off four trespassing teenagers and a large talking dog? Great. What happens? How does the tension build? How will each character develop? What is the climax? In other words, just coming up with an exciting premise for a book is not the same thing as figuring out the complexities of plot and character that come together to bring that premise to life.

3. The characters. 

Non-writers do not understand that once a character is given life, its creator has about as much control over it as a parent does over a teen-aged daughter’s moods. Frequently, characters wander off in unplottable directions, and the author is left scrambling to catch up. These little surprises can often turn the story outline on its ear, stretching and challenging the writer to come up with new ideas and solutions. This requires a lot of thinking, pacing, and muttering to oneself. Hair-pulling and inarticulate growls can also manifest themselves.

4. Then there’s real life. 

Spouses and children expect to be interacted with on a semi-regular basis. Some attention to hygiene must be paid as well. Phones must be answered, taxes must be filed, and food must be purchased and consumed. Even if a writer were to be able to neglect all these things indefinitely, it would still be a problem, since we must experience these human interactions and activities in order to write realistically. So much inspiration comes from the small moments in our days that becoming a hermit to write a book is a self-defeating tactic.

I would love to be a full-time novelist, but it’s not feasible. Bills must be paid, and working as an editor makes that more likely to happen. When I’m not editing, I still have two special-needs children to tend to (sometimes three, if my husband is having a rough day). I do have a work in progress currently that I’d like to take a determined stab at finishing, so I plan to blog about that process periodically in the hopes that this may give me further insight into my own writing process. Also, I think some readers might find it interesting. Let's see how far my husband's "just write it" approach can get me!

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