Sunday, January 22, 2012

Writing is Hard

“When I retire, I'm going to perform brain surgery.”

This is a joke shared by some of us in our writing circle. Outside of writing circles, there is this perception that writing a book is as simple as sitting down in front of a computer and pounding away at the keyboard. It isn't. It's never easy. If anyone tells you it is easy, they are lying or have a misconception about the writing process.

From my personal understanding and experience, there are six requirements to write:
  • You have to know the writing craft.
  • You have to commit to writing and actually write.
  • You have to be able to look at your story and make changes.
  • You have to be willing to send your story to other people.
  • You have to be able to wait for long periods of time.
  • You have to be willing to make changes that other people tell/suggest you to make.

You have to know the writing craft.
In order to be a writer, you have to know how to write. This might sound simple. It isn't. I've wanted to be a writer since I was thirteen. I've devoted almost my entire life to creating stories, developing them, and writing. Despite all of this, I am still learning. I make obvious mistakes. I'm willing to bet that my wife will find at least one grammatical error in this blog post. I know the rules, but I let them slip. And this is just the grammatical rules. You need to know how to work with dramatic tension, the structure of a story, character development, and a hundred other elements of a story. Fortunately, you don't need to be a master of these rules, you just need to know them and continually strive to improve at them.

You have to commit to writing and actually write.
Anyone who has actually written can tell you that it is easy to claim you are going to write, but the act of getting yourself to do so is surprisingly difficult. There is a world of distractions just beyond the range of your word processor. You have the vast internet. There are shows on television that you are trying to keep up with or, perhaps, catch up on. You might have a pile of books on your night stand that you need to read. The dogs might need walking. The dishes might need doing. You might decide that now is the time to get to that pile of mail, currently sitting on your desk in such a massive pile that it has toppled over, covering a remote control that shouldn't be there in the first place and the whole pile needs to be picked up this second. The only way to write, is to stop making excuses and make the time to write.
What a writer's desk MIGHT look like.
You have to be able to look at your story and make changes.
Completing a story is difficult and congratulations are in order to anyone who gets the story down on paper. The feeling of accomplishment is powerful and I find it very difficult to draw a comparison to anything else I have done before. While completing a story leaves you feeling accomplished, it isn't enough. The story is going to need revisions. It won't just be a single revision, it is often going to be several revisions. In the case of my novel, The Rose and the Crown, I just finished my fifth draft a few days ago. That makes a grand total of five times I've gone through the entire novel from start to finish. Is it done? No. There are changes that still need to be made, but the changes that remain aren't as serious as previous drafts. You will have to cut scenes. You will have to remove characters. You will have to correct continuity errors. And you will have to repeat this process all over again to fix the scenes that no longer fit the changes of your previous draft. I have never heard of an author doing it right the first time. It is simply unheard of.

You have to be willing to send your story to other people.
This is another one of those steps that sounds easy in theory, but is difficult in practice. Feedback is both necessary and difficult. Eventually someone is going to have to look at your manuscript. They are going to have to read it. And, eventually, someone is going to have to tell you what they thought of it. Will they judge you? Will they hate it? Will they compare it Twilight, forcing you into a fit of justified homicide? These are thoughts that go through the writer's head before they hand it out. It can take a bit of willpower to get over this obstacle.

You have to be able to wait for long periods of time.
In an alternative reality, there is a world where authors write a story, click “send”, and after a few minutes, they check their bank account and find that the balance has gone up a hundred thousand dollars. In reality, the book publishing process is slow (and pays much less). You will have to write your story, edit your story, and muster the willpower to send the story to someone. Then you must wait. And, let me tell you that waiting is a very difficult thing to do. It's like Christmas, only you have no idea when Santa is coming and you have no idea if he's leaving you the present you wanted or a lump of coal.

I currently have a short story I'm waiting to hear back on. I sent it out over four months ago. Every single time I check the mail, I'm hoping the letter will be there. At this point, I don't care if it's a rejection. I just want to hear something back.

This isn't the only time you have to wait. If you've been accepted for publication, you still have to turn in the manuscript and wait for the editor to give you changes to make. And, if you have turned in your final manuscript, you have to wait once again for the book to go to print and hit the shelves. All told, you may spend as much time waiting as you spent writing.

You have to be willing to make changes that other people tell/suggest you to make.
This can be a very, very hard thing to have to deal with depending completely on the suggestion. Yet, it is something you must be able to face in order to progress forward as writer. At some point in time, you are going to get a credible suggestion for a change to make to your story. This will not be a change you initially want to make. This may come from someone in your writing group with a very good point or from five beta readers saying the exact same thing. This very well might come from an editor who knows the craft well. Sooner or later, you are going to have to change something that you do not want to change.

This can be one of the hardest decisions you ever make. It is impossible to know what form this will take, until it transpires. It might be a scene that needs to be deleted. It might even be removing a character. Whatever the change is, it will be for something that you think is important or necessary for the narrative. Part of the writing process is, unfortunately, being able to recognize that something needs to change or go.

So yes, writing is hard. Still, I love every second of it (no I don't). And when I retire, I'm going to perform brain surgery.

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