Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Makes Writing Difficult

After years of writing books and never understanding why people say writing is hard, I’ve decided that if writing isn’t hard, you aren’t doing it right. Now, that’s not to say that we should make writing difficult, just so we have to suffer for our art. And it’s not to say that everyone who finds writing difficult is a good writer. But no one achieves greatness by doing what is easy.

This is true in any field. Imagine the great concert pianist. He is performing in Carnegie Hall. He walks out on stage. All eyes are on him as he sits down at the piano. He rests his hands on the keys. They raise ever so slightly as he prepares to hit the first note. Then with one finger he plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

You don’t get to Carnegie Hall by being the best at playing easy stuff that any five-year-old can play. The same is true of writing. When you consider that there are millions of would be authors out there who are willing to write the easy stuff, no matter how well you write easy stuff, you won’t stand out. If you want to stand out as a writer, you’ve got to write stuff that other people aren’t writing.

In music, there are a couple of reasons why performers won’t play a piece. One is that it doesn’t sound very good. The other is that it is difficult to play. The performer who stands out is the one who is able to perform a beautiful piece of music that no one else is playing because it is too difficult. For writers, the writers who stand out are those who write things that people want to read, but other writers find too difficult to write. So let’s look at some of the things that make writing difficult.

Lack of Knowledge

One reason people turn to books is to gain knowledge about a subject. What makes that difficult for writers is that they have to gain the knowledge before they can write about it. If the subject is already covered well in books and online, it is easy to gain the knowledge, but people are less likely to buy the book. The author must turn to other sources for that knowledge. It may be life experience from the school of hard knocks, which difficult enough as it is. It may be that the author has to work through the problem people want to know how to solve. Through trial and error, he finds a solution and writes it down so that other people will have an easier time coming to the solution.

Tedious Writing

In a book that I’m working on right now, there are hundreds of classes in a software package that I need to document for the appendix of the book. From my use of other similar books, I know that this part of the book could become one of the most useful to my readers, but it is tedious work. But when it is done, it will make the book worth owning.

Solving the Unsolvable

For this one, I’m thinking more in terms of fiction, but it can apply to non-fiction as well. It is easy when you write a story and everything falls into place, but if we’re pushing the bar with our writing, we’ll encounter situations where our characters have no way out. It is difficult for us because we don’t know how to solve the problem when we get there. It is interesting to our readers because they don’t know how to solve it either. Maybe we never find a solution, but if we can, the writing that results is so much better.

What are some other things that make writing hard?