5 Reasons Why Writing Is Hard Work


Today is the day we write about something beginning with the letter “W” as part of the grueling race that is the “A to Z Blogging Challenge”.  When I think of today’s chosen letter, I can think of nothing else but the thing I love most: writing.

There is a current boon of self-published writers out there who seem to think that if they simply upload their text to Amazon Kindle they will suddenly be an overnight success.  Unfortunately there are a sea of those people crying out to be heard, and only a few of them will actually sound their voices around the world.  This will take months, maybe even years of dedication and time in front of a laptop or a computer or a legal pad scratching away at bad grammar, poorly developed characterization and a mountain of other problems that face the self-published author.

The title of my blog is probably the most true statement one could make as a writer.  One does not set about the task of writing anything, be it a poem, a short story, a play, a screenplay or a novel without putting the old nose to the grindstone.  I did not coin the phrase that titles this blog, but borrowed it from Dr. Bill Mitchell, one of the greatest writing teachers I ever had the pleasure to sit under.  Dr. Mitchell’s motto rings true in my life as I struggle to write the best prose I can possibly force out of my addled brain.  Sometimes what I want to do on the page is not what emerges, and I have to pound at it like a blacksmith hammering a raw piece of steel into a finely sharpened blade.

I have come up with 5 reasons why I believe that writing is truly hard work, and it is my hope that if you are reading this and you are a struggling writer, you will read them closely.  I am only here to help.

1.  Originality – If you want to be the next Stephanie Meyer, then you have been beaten to the punch by Amanda Hawking and there are even websites dedicated to vampire romance fiction.  Some say that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to fiction, but I do not believe this.  Sure, vampire romance is selling now, but soon it won’t be.  Coming up with an original idea takes research, planning, digging around in old texts for germs of ideas and plain old fashioned brainstorming.  If you are meant to write a novel, the idea will come to you, and it will be something that has your own thoughts, dreams and personal demons colliding in a mess of tangled verbiage.  It is then up to you to turn that mess into something someone wants to read.

2.  Quality – To write well one needs time and patience.  It is not easy to churn out 50,000 words of finely wrought prose.  Take pride in what you are writing.  Do not simply write the text and then leave it as it is.  Get a second opinion (namely a professional) and shop it around to several people and then listen to their suggestions.  Read great fiction and study what makes those novels so powerful.  Remember that the words on the page are your words.  Are these sentences worthy of your name?

3.  Revision –  I cannot stress enough the importance of this tip.  After you finish writing your novel, expect to spend the same amount of time revising as it took to write.  Revise it at least five times before handing your manuscript to an editor.  Pick up a copy of Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, read it cover to cover and then follow their instructions!   A writer who doesn’t revise is like a man who builds a house and then never lives in it.  Get out the red pen and don’t stop until you (and others) are satisfied with the text you have written.

4.  Criticism – Great writing is produced with the winds of criticism blowing at its back.  If I do not have the voices of my critics sounding in my ear and marking up my manuscript, I will produce something worth much less than what I am capable.  Join a writing group, seek help from people who have an English degree, pass it around to critical readers, and then listen carefully to what they say.  A good critic will read your text with the idea in mind of helping you become a better writer even if you already have an English degree and have taught writing for over 14 years.  There are always new things to learn, and critics will be there to help you learn them.

5.  Public Relations – It is difficult to build a platform for yourself without doing some P.R.  I blog, I tweet, I Facebook, I Digg, and I Reddit.  I e-mail agencies (and receive many rejections), I read every comment on my blog and reply often.  I comment on other blogs and click the like button if I feel I genuinely like the post.  However, I do not let the demands of blogging eat into my personal writing time.  I must write 1000 words a day even if what I wrote was absolute garbage and I wasn’t really “feeling it”.  Besides, I can always revise later.

My hope is that if you are reading this and you consider yourself a writer but are not willing to devote the time and energy to the craft that is necessary, you might as well find another thing to do that is less stressful.  Writing well takes time, effort, blood, sweat and cups full of tears.  The determined writer will learn that not only is writing hard work, but it is something that is extremely rewarding even if books never sell and agents never call.

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4 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why Writing Is Hard Work

  1. Great advice – and so true. Writing IS hard work, it’s hard to be original – and the critics snap at your heels. I’m currently working on a book that was contracted 9 years ago. Then put on hold because my publishers, Penguin, discovered another author was writing a book on the same topic for a rival publisher. He was ahead of me, and I had to wait for that to sell through. That ill-wind, though, has only been to my benefit – I’ve learned a good deal in the time since (writers never stop learning) and the book, when it appears next year, will be so much better than I could have written in 2003.

    I am dubious about word-length goals. Certainly, books and articles are specified by length. And in my writing lifetime I’ve commercially published around 2,000,000 words in various books and articles and written at least double that. But my personal goals in writing relate to content and quality rather than actual word numbers. To me, the key arbiters of quality aren’t the length – they are the ability to write the correct content to a specified length. Control. Control of expression, control of content, control of scale. I’ve got a post coming up in the next ten days or so on my own blog about these issues.

    Thanks again for sharing your insights – all good stuff & I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts.

  2. Hi Roger,
    This is great advice to writers. The publishing world has changed so much, just in the last five years. In 1998 my historical novel, The Keeper of the Crystal Spring, was picked up by Viking Penguin and made Doubleday Book-of-the-Month Club. Then I became a mommy and got into non-fiction. I have recently launched my last little chick, and have just finished a contemporary women’s novel–and I find all the rules in the publishing world have changed. It is interesting to note that the rules of writing that you list here haven’t really, except for the last one, about PR. So the bottom line is still to write a darn good book, but to be more savvy and pro-active about the PR aspects. Great post, great blog.

  3. You’ve made some great points about writing not just on this post but on some of your previous ones. Extremely sound advice.

    Oddly writing 1000 words a day for a blog post is always remarkably easy. Doing it for the novel, suddenly slows down the fingers, or the brain, or the inspiration – or just something.

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