Is Writing Hard?

It's close to a given among many writers, and especially among teachers of writing, that writing well is not only hard, but that it should be hard. Indeed, the assumption is that if writing isn’t accompanied by some kind of pain it probably isn’t any good. Usually, the pronouncement that writing is hard is accompanied by the word "discipline." Novice writers are encouraged to develop good, even rigid, writing habits to conquer the dread of composition, which is brought on by the inherent difficulty of the craft. The one great rule is "ass on chair," as if you must make yourself write even if you hate doing it.

There's even a cool factor associated with "writing is hard.” The serious writer is supposed to cultivate a no pain no gain mentality. If writing is easy and you're having a good time, you're not a real writer. Prolific writers are often criticized as shallow and glib (producers of glibberish?). The people whose production is skimpy are more admired than the ones who produce. And the writers who don’t write anything are, well, saints of the Church of Writing Is Hard.

I'll admit that there is something to the idea that writing is hard, but I don’t think “hard” is the right word. I think what most people who say writing is hard really mean is that for them writing is unpleasant, mainly because they can't seem to tease out the best in themselves. Result: boredom, frustration, fear of failure, which leads to avoidance of the chair, which leads to guilt. Many practitioners of the written words—aspiring novelists and academics writing their theses come to mind—often manufacture guilt pangs for not writing. Imagine that! They'd rather bear up under the pain of guilt than the pain of actually setting down words. Nurturing that idea that writing is hard is a trap. It leads to over-thinking and under-achieving. It constipates the mind.

Many writers that I respect belong to the Church of Writing Is Hard, and I realize that my views on this matter are in the minority, so I could be wrong; I’m basing my observations strictly on my experience as a writer. I don't find writing "hard." I find threading a leader through the eye-hole of a fishhook without my glasses hard. I find learning a foreign language hard. I find remaining civil in the presence of certain people hard.

For me writing is either easy or impossible. When it's impossible I don't bother. My feeling is that if you find writing hard, in that sense of unpleasantness, you ought to do something else with your time. Something fun. Which brings me to the idea that writing should be fun. If it's not fun for the writer it ain't going to be fun for the reader. For me writing is about discovery; discovery is the fun part. So many would-be writers seem to believe that you should figure out most of what you want to say in your head before you set down words. It's that kind of thinking that makes writing unpleasant. No discoveries, no fun. Results should not meet your fantasies; they should surpass them.

While writing is never unpleasant for me, it is time-consuming. I rarely get the words right with the first draft. Or the second draft. By the time the piece I'm working on is half-way decent I've forgotten just how many drafts I've done.

So, then, writing is not hard, but it is hard work. It's work that some writers don't like doing. I think writers who are just starting out have to ask themselves whether they enjoy the act of writing, whether writing is a path to discovery of oneself in the world, or an impediment to same. The dirty little secret of successful writers, that is writers who have successfully completed a project, is that they love doing it.