Why is writing so hard?: Frequent Questions

Q: Why is writing hard?

A: Is it?

We’ve all had that moment. Someone expects us to write something—whether it’s a thank-you note to grandma or a presentation for a new client—and when we sit down to do it…crickets.

Damn, we think. Writing is hard.

Well yes, and no. And—okay—maybe.

Yes: Writing is hard.

Writing is especially hard when the Muse is working a different shift than we are. You want to write your novel in that lovely hour of silence at 5 a.m., before you have to get ready to go to work. Your Muse prefers your collegiate days of coffee-fueled binge writing that could last until 5 a.m. Yep. Ending your day at 5 a.m. is definitely a different experience than starting it at 5 a.m.

No: Writing is not hard.

Writing is not hard. Not if you sit it down and give it a stern talking-to.

You: I’m going to write for 15 minutes every day. Starting today. From 5 a.m. to 5:15. Maybe longer if it feels good.
Your Muse: Wait, what? Can’t we just hit the snooze button?
You: Stay in bed if you must, but I’m going to be over there at my desk making my fingers type words for 15 minutes. Buh-bye.

The truth is, you don’t need your Muse all the time. Because—and sssh! I’m about to give you a trade secret, so please don’t tell anyone. You don’t need your Muse all the time because you don’t need everything you write to be brilliant.

In fact, I can absolutely guarantee that it won’t be. Muse or no Muse, the Pareto principle applies to writing just as much as it does to anything else: 80% of the work we do will be crap. But 20% will be something we can work with. 10% of it may even be good, right out of the box. And 1% might be close to brilliant.

If you expect brilliance every time, my friend, you are setting yourself up for a fall. Because you can’t get to the 1% of great stuff without producing the other 99%.

Okay, maybe writing is hard.

The wonderful, wise-cracking writer Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing, I love having written.”

I’ve felt that way sometimes, but not often. Truth is, I’d be happy as a clam if I could write all day. (Bonus question: Why are clams known for their sunny dispositions?)

Of course, when I don’t get to choose my own topic—when I’m writing for a client, for instance—I’d rather do almost anything but write. At those times, my house gets very, very clean.

The more, the merrier

The more you write, the better your writing gets. It’s really that simple. And the better your writing gets, the more happy you are to write. It’s the circle of (writing) life.

So give yourself 15 minutes a day. Set a timer to keep yourself honest. And make a note in your favorite calendar app (I like Streaks, but it’s only offered for the iPhone) to keep track of your commitment. As the numbers grow, you’ll become more invested in keeping the streak going. I’m at 204 days as of today.

Yes, I’m a professional writer, but I still do writing exercises every day. Writing for myself feeds me in a different way than writing for my clients.

If writing is hard for you, the only advice I can offer is: Do more of it.

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  • writing