Thursday, April 2, 2015
Why Writing Is Hard
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed”. Quotes like this (this one is attributed to Ernest Hemingway) make us thinking that writing is incredibly hard. It is daunting enough to put your thoughts on the page without having the baggage of such a mythology. One of my favourite authors, Julia Cameron, suggests that such a mythology is misleading nonsense, and it is dangerous because it creates blocks within us, that make us believe that if the work isn’t hard somehow we aren’t doing it right. I agree with her premise, mainly because her approach has helped me write, even though I did still struggle.
Why is it so hard? Its just typing a few words on a page, isn’t it? I always thought that the reason it was hard to write, and the reason for those “bleed on the page” type of quotes, was that writers feel the pressure to choose the right word, the right phrase to describe something. Much like the designer choosing just the right fabric, and seeing his creation come together, for writers simple things like structure, at what point to start the story and how much to reveal at what stage, can loom large and create blocks in our process. I already found so many aspects of writing hard, I could sympathise with this view – it was hard to figure out just the right way to express something, it was hard to keep the grammar Nazi in the form of your fourth grade English teacher from baying in your ear that your writing was full of clichés and your punctuation isn’t good enough to pass muster (well, that’s the polite version of what she is actually saying).
Reading Natalie Goldbergs’ Thunder and Lightning, it occurred to me that the reason why writing was so hard was less to do with the elements of writing itself, but what it demanded from the writer. For writing to be good, we need to be honest, with ourselves and with the reader. We don’t need to spill all of our secrets on the page, but the feelings and emotions must be authentic. Otherwise, a reader can smell inauthenticity a proverbial mile away.
Writing also demands that we go deep within ourselves, and get to know intimately our own values and beliefs and then question them, up end them. This is not only required of memoirists, but of all of us. This inner journey is what makes writing hard, because at once we are required to be open, reveal ourselves and then question and take apart what we think now and thought before and how it is different, and how all of this has affected us.
We love our favourite authors and believe that we know them intimately – at a certain level we do know them. Whether they write fiction or non-fiction, good writers put enough of themselves in their work that their fans can feel the core of their being, can get a sense of who they really are. I may not know the favourite colours or food or taste in movies of my favourite authors, but at some level I can sense how they would think about an issue, or whether I would like them if I were to sit beside them on an airplane.
For us to really connect with our audience, and leave them with anything lasting, we first must intimately connect with ourselves, our own mind, and then have the courage to lay that basic truth bare on the page. And this is why writing is hard.