Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Writing Is Hard

I've been a member to a couple of writing forums for a few years now, and one common complaint I see over and over again is the lack of non-writer's understanding of how hard of work writing really is. Sure, anyone can put words to paper, or to computer screen, but there is more to writing a coherent story than where Johnny did this and Susan said that. It involves more than just an understanding of basic grammar and spelling and to be able to string together words so the reader understands what is going on in the story. For some people, that alone may be enough of a challenge, to write a story that makes a smidgen of sense. But for writers, it goes much deeper. It's not about writing sneakily placed metaphors, nor so much as delivering a message to the reader. It is about emotion, making the reader feel and see and touch and smell and taste what the characters in the writer's story does, to make them feel sadness, despair, happiness and love. To take the reader from their world and immerse them into the world the writer has created. When my main character loses a loved one, and he feels the pain of that loss, I want the reader to feel it too.

It isn't just about emotion, nor painting a world with words that makes it so hard. Dialogue can be tricky, too. Dialogue needs to be written realistically, but not taken verbatim from real life, else it becomes too much to read with the um's and stutters and lack of correct grammar and word usage, and therefore you lose the reader. This is especially true when one tries to convey dialects. Too much and the reader will want to throw your book or burn it—worse, they'll never read any of your work again. A sprinkling of dialect goes a long way. Too formal and it reads stiff and unrealistic. Dialogue needs to be true to character. In my work in progress, Draculești, the story takes place in the 15th century and back then certain words we use with frequency today weren't around then, or at least in English. Since my book is written in English, the reader assumes it is translated from whatever language the character speaks. I avoid having my characters speak words that were not used in English back then, at least the most obvious ones. This is where the trusty dictionary and thesaurus come in. Not only will those who are hard core historical readers pick up on words not in use back in those days, it just wouldn't be natural for the character to use them. Little things like this that may be oblivious to non-writers are important to writers, and another reason why writing is hard.

I could go on and on about the mechanics of writing, such as Point of View, staying in character, no head-hopping, pacing, so on and so on, but that would make for a lengthy post and I'm not about to do that with a blog. I believe writing can be learned. To write well can be learned. I had always been first and foremost an artist (though, I don't practice art much anymore, sadly), but I have always liked to write stories. Words are not my medium, but I'm learning, I want to learn, and the desire to learn anything is what can make a person become good. However, it takes talent to become a wordsmith and to use the right words, written in a certain way to create a certain emotion in the reader. Just like painting or drawing or sculpting or playing an instrument, anyone can be taught these, maybe even do a pretty good job, but it takes talent to be great. And greatness is subjective. Some may think Picasso was a great painter, but to me? Meh. I love John William Waterhouse's art. I think his is great art. Others may not think the same.

Hylas and the Nymphs, by John William Waterhouse

Even the greats have their "gaaaah!" moments, where the words or the art or the music just won't come to them. You know (or perhaps you don't know) what happens next in your story, you've either planned it ahead in notes or it's all in your head, but you just can't write what you want to convey. Everything comes out trite, or clumsy, or just plain not what you wanted at all. You throw it away and start over. Or you let it sit for hours, or days, or even weeks or months. You know you should soldier on, but that metaphorical muse just doesn't show up. You feel frustrated, you want to throw the whole damn manuscript away. But you don't, because that would be foolish and you would cry and hate yourself, and you come back to it and read what you've written and you think, "hey, this isn't so bad," and you get excited about the story and characters again and that snag you came across comes loose and you're on a roll! Yeah, this has happened to me many a time. It's those frustrating can't get a damn thing on paper (computer screen) moments that make writing hard.

So why would anyone want to subject themselves to such? We do it because we love it. Despite all the technical and emotional crap we put ourselves through to write the story in our heads as good as we can get, we do it because we love the craft. We love creating worlds and people and stories and the art of making words come to life in the minds of our readers. It is what we do, it is what we love.


randi lee said...

Right on, Sister. It's amazing how many people think that 'typing up a blurb' is all writers do. It takes time and thought and passion to pull a reader into our worlds, it isn't as simple as sitting in front of the keyboard and clacking away.

I agree with the talent thing, too. I'd say it's just like baseball practice: If you don't practice, you're less likely hit the ball.

This is, in my opinion, a perfect post. Nice.

K.E. Skedgell said...

Thank you very much! I'm glad that you agree.