Saturday, 25 June 2016

Thinking About Writing

Writing is hard.

Ordering your thoughts into coherent and effective wording, with well-paced and enjoyable clarity is not an easy thing. There are those for whom it comes to more naturally, of course, but I'm not sure if I'm one of those people. I edit a lot, and do it as I go. It can take me hours to write a few hundred words. I wish I could write profusely and at length without so much time spent agonizing over each sentence. You will never know how many times these sentences that you are now reading have been reworded, how many times the backspace, delete, cut and paste keys have been used. You will never know how much time I've spent staring at the screen, re-reading what I have written. The amount of time I put into this is much longer than the time it will take someone to read it, and the amount of effort I put in is likely exponentially larger than any possible payoff for the reader or myself. I don't know how true this is for other writers.

Many believe that you should just write, that you must give yourself permission to get the first draft wrong, and then come back to do revisions. This is an almost alien concept to me, as I can't quite comprehend how
you can continue writing if you are not building off of something which is already somewhat coherent. One sentence follows another, and each takes meaning, importance and significance from what has come before. I don't see how the process of writing can be linear. Everything is connected and often moving forward means going back and having to reshape what is already there. Free writing just doesn't make sense to me. I understand and accept that some people do it this way, but I can't. I know that my prose will never be perfect and that I should not get hung up on trying to make it so, but I can't work in a straight line.

Writing is hard.

Mostly, I spend a lot of time thinking about writing rather than actually doing it. I spend a lot of time brainstorming ideas, discarding the bad ones (there are a lot), combining and refining good ones (so few), and filing many away for another time (it's quite possible that I make bad decisions in this process and use bad ideas and throw out good ones.) The amount of thought, the number of ideas bounced around is astronomical in comparison to the final result.

It often strikes me that I am wasting my time, and that I need to be focused on getting the words down instead of thinking about them. I should be doing, not dreaming. But there is value in daydreaming and my own creativity requires that I work in short bursts in between long periods of thinking. The screenwriter Aaron Sorkin says that writer's block is his default position and I certainly understand that. Perhaps all this thinking, however, is like taking the time to sharpen your axe before you use it. I wonder, however, if I spend too much time sharpening my axe?

Writing is hard.

It requires a lot of self-discipline to get from that dreaming stage into a productive writing mode and then to maintain that. So much of the advice out there for writers is just about finding the time and the will to actually do it.

If it is this hard to write one little blog post, then how hard is it to write a novel? On top of just being able to get words out you have to worry about the craft: characterization, plotting, consistency, pacing, voice, style, not to mention grammar and punctuation. I think a lot of people, those who have never tried, don't quite appreciate what an undertaking it is. The tortured author is almost a comedic stereotype, and to tell people that you are writing a novel can evoke a lot of different responses, but it's usually along the lines of " Oh, that's interesting, what's it about?" rather than, "Wow! That is a big task." We don't really see thinking and writing as actual work. It does take a lot of time and effort, however, especially when you have real life obligations to attend to, including family and a full-time day job.

I'm about two-thirds to three-quarters through the first draft on my novel and that has taken just over three years (I have written other things in that time, a lot of short stories, I'm not that slow!) and I know that I will, despite all my frantic editing on the fly, still have to come back and revise.

The challenge of writing is what makes it enjoyable, but it is hard work and I have a lot of respect for those who do it and do it well.

*Full disclosure - this post took me two to three hours to write. Am I hopeless?


  1. Thanks for sharing, and to answer your last question, no. Absolutely not! I have gained so much more appreciation for my favorite authors who are taking *forever* to come out with their next book (not GRRM), that I literally sent a tweet thanking them for taking as long as they did on the first two books - not as long as I have with my own. I know how much of a chore it is, and everyone that keeps pestering authors to hurry doesn't realize just how much more pressure that puts on a writer.
    So, take your time. Write your way and keep doing as well as you do. I have read many things from you on FWO, I just haven't commented on most. You are a great writer, and I, for one, thank you for taking your time.

  2. I think it is the nature of us artists to wonder if we can do it better, more, faster. That's part of the jazz of it, isn't it, to face our obstacles and overcome them. That's one aspect of the artistic life. The other is that it not the journey but the result that is important, no matter how long it takes to get there.

    It doesn't matter if you write 200 or 2,000 words per day. As long as you keeping swinging you're still in the game, and that's what's important.