The trouble with writing

May 29, 2013 § 11 Comments

I think this is the fifth blog post I’ve started today. The previous four – all on different topics – bored me to tears, and I’m of the view that if they bore me, they’re likely to bore you. (As @fgriebenow quipped on Twitter, it’s possible I’m suffering from writer’s blog.)

But my frustration today does makes me think about the way many people consider writing – as something that’s difficult to do. Here’s one of my favourite quotes on the subject, and it sums it up nicely, I think:

“Writing is easy – all you do is stare at a blank page until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler

I think the difficulty lies not so much in the writing itself, as with the subject matter. Because the truth is that writing is only difficult when you have nothing to say – as I have found out again today. If you can talk to someone about the subject you want to write about, you can write about it. Because writing is just a conversation on paper.

And it’s changeable! It’s not like you’re spending hours chipping your words out of a stone block with a chisel. Today it’s very easy to cut and paste, delete and replace, and generally play with your words without having to start all over again (although occasionally that is the only way). Falling in love with your ‘delete’ and ‘backspace’ keys is an essential part of learning to write.

If I’ve learned anything after over two decades of writing for a living, it’s this: about 95% of good writing lies in rewriting – you have to be prepared to tweak and cut and shuffle and rejig and change things. That’s the secret. You start by getting everything onto the page, and then the crafting begins.

And then, once you’ve crafted it all, you begin to pare back – the string of trite adjectives, the telling where you should be showing, the rhythm that isn’t quite right, the example that’s just one too many. That’s the hard part – not the writing, but the crafting. The questioning of every word on the page, to ensure that it has earned its place.

But the hardest part of writing, surely, is when you stop. Because that’s usually when you allow other people to read what you’ve written. And it’s hard because first, you’re often baring a bit of your soul. Second, if you’re serious about crafting your words, what happens is that every time you reread something you’ve written and put out there, you see something that you could have phrased better, or left out, or expanded on. It’s the nature of the beast.

But after all is said and done, the key to writing is simply to start. Just put some words on the page – you can always fix them if they’re bad. Look at me – I started with writer’s blog, and now I have a blog post.


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