Some people seem to think that writing is easy. You just sit in a corner and write, and the story pours out onto the page, perfect in form and structure, seductive in language. Being a writer is an easy way of spending your life and earning a living.
Let’s dispel that myth right now. Writing is very hard work. It requires commitment and dedication. You have to have the drive to keep on going, even when beset with doubts and self-recriminations, even in the face of that voice that says, no one will want to read this. Writing is hard work.
It requires discipline. It means that you have to motivate yourself to sit down, every day, and pick up the pen again, and face what you did before. It means that you spend hours alone, with no one encouraging you, no feedback, and quite often, no real or tangible reward. It means long, long hours, time, effort, sacrifice. And then, once you have drafted something, the real work begins.
Editing is perhaps harder work than drafting for the first time, because after that initial heady rush of excitement and self-expression, editing means looking at your writing with a critical eye and seeing it, warts and all. How many of us are able to hold a mirror up to our faces and really look at ourselves and our flaws? How much harder is it to look at our precious creation, the words, so hard to find and to write, and to say, this can stay, but this needs to go? And this needs to change?
The hard work is not just in the initial writing stage, it comes when there is the first rewrite, and then the second, and then the third, and so on and so on, until at last you think, I hate this thing, and everything about it! We love to write, but we don’t necessarily love to rewrite. Yet nothing is ever perfect first time, and whatever the flaws, if we don’t find them out, someone else will. So the necessity of editing makes writing an uphill struggle, and one which some of us feel never really ends. There is always room for more improvement, and the biggest challenge then becomes identifying at what point you should stop.
I think this is true of all kinds of writing. But perhaps for those writing creatively, it is harder because so much of what we do has some kind of emotional investment, unless you are writing to order and see it purely as a business. And even then, if it is just business, it’s still hard work. For most of us, there’s no pay packet at the end of the week, no colleagues to chat to by the coffee machine, no lunch breaks in the park or set days off. Instead, the writing follows you around everywhere, and there is no boss, either, to motivate you and to reward you for a job well done. It’s work without the benefits of working. Its end point, however, seems worth it. The act of creation. You can’t get better than that.