Suppose someone brought a bazooka over to your house, and at bazooka-point told you to sit down and write something. Would that make it easier to write? Or would you be thinking, “Hmm, a bazooka is a quick way to go.”
What is the most difficult thing about writing? The hardest part for me—and I don’t mean to sound glib—is writing. It’s all hard. Or I’ll qualify that a bit. If you’re trying to do the best job you can, it’s really difficult. Always. If you don’t care about quality, then not so much.
I write a lot, by this point in my life about a kazillion words, including two, maybe three hundred good ones, some with multiple syllables. I’ve also written and even published in very diverse genres: short stories, essays, medical encyclopedia articles, newspaper feature articles, a newspaper health column, academic journal articles, poems, blog entries for a dental device manufacturer. Etcetera. So I’ve got a little experience here, and when I say that writing is difficult, I mean “God damn it, why does this never get easier?”
Really, why is writing so hard? Here’s my summarized answer: because writing is basically an act of magic, and as Harry Potter teaches us, magic is not easy.
The essence of writing is, in fact, as mysterious as magic. You start with thoughts in your head, and let’s don’t even get started on what exactly thoughts are. Now, take some physical objects, a clump of clay maybe, or sticks, banana leaves, grass stems, soot, whatever you like, and use those things to put your ideas in the head of someone who won’t be born for a thousand years. If that doesn’t seem like magic, you’re just not thinking about it. The invention of writing was so miraculous that some religions claim it as a gift from the gods.
There is a man in my new writing group, in charming Decatur, Georgia, who said yesterday that he and a friend make bets with one another on getting something written, and the loser has to actually pay something. This method, the man said, is the only way he can write. We might logically ask why he is writing at all, if he has to use such a trick, but I’ve known plenty of people who say they want to write, yet they don’t do it. In the end it’s too much trouble.
I’ve also read quotes from writers who were successful enough to be quoted, talking about the struggle. I may not quote these exactly, but you can sue me if you wish (hint to the wise: I’m really rich, so it’s worth your effort). One writer said, “I don’t like writing, but I like having written.” Oh, that is so true. Maybe it’s a bit like giving birth to a child. When the screaming and cursing God are over, you look at what you’ve done and say “Heeey, aren’t you adorable?”
When I first had the idea for this blog entry I actually had an answer to what is most difficult for me about writing. I was going to say transitions, by which I mean movement through time and space. It’s not really hard to do it, you just say “then” a lot, or with a little more sophistication—but not much—you say things like “the next day” or “he walked out of the room”. What makes transitions so hard is doing them with the full skill of a competent writer, the kind of transition that makes the shift seem so natural the reader doesn’t even know you’re doing it. I’ve sometimes spent a couple of hours or more on one paragraph trying to come up with a satisfying transition.
But as I thought about writing this, I began to wonder whether transitions are more difficult than creating a realistic character. Are they more difficult than coming up with a strong plot? Sometimes I think I could rob a bank, use the money to buy drugs, sell the drugs to finance a small war, and jump off the Empire State Building for the sake of the woman I love, and I still wouldn’t have a plot. So that’s hard, too.
One of the problems I have with writing is that when I do it I can think of so many other things that maybe ought to be done right now instead. Maybe the clothes in the dryer are done. One of my fingernails starts to look too long and needs cutting. And I should really make a note about going by the bank. Blah blah blah. Or I just get sleepy and think “Ah, man, a nap would be so nice.” Thus the name of this blog site. In fact, I’m going to go take a nap right now. Then he stood up and walked out of the room.