Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why is it so Hard to Write?

For as long as I can remember I had a knack for putting words together.  My ideas were often innovative and my stories contained a through-line that made them eminently readable, at least for a grade-schooler.  Yet for as long as that has been the case it has also been true that for me writing has always been extremely hard.

When I say writing is hard for me, I don't mean that it is difficult to slap words down or make sentences that work.  What I mean is that the act of writing well, writing to my own expectations, is a lot of hard work. As I start work on a blog post or a speech ideas swirl around in my head like a magnificent maelstrom and it's all I can do to try to capture the essence of a single sentiment, let alone weave that tempest into a coherent tapestry of ideas.  I can see glimmers of the final picture I want to paint in my head, but as I plod through one poorly rendered concept after another I realize how much more work it needs, how far from the path I've deviated.  And at some point I forget what path I was on as I find forks in the road that seem to lead me far from my opening paragraph.

I've never understood how someone can be lacking words in a composition. For me I am always flooded with them.  A half dozen lines per idea and I've prose'd my way into an amalgam of related concepts that spans many pages and, like modern Physics, with no clear Unifying Theory of Everything to help it make sense.  It is hard to write well because it is hard to express the million micro epiphanies I have as I explore an idea in my mind.  It is hard to write well because every line I write is a "little darling", to quote popular literature on writing, and I cannot sacrifice enough of them to earn the cogency that I need to powerfully make the point that plays within the powers of my mind.

It is hard for me to write because it takes so long to do it. I am a perfectionist.  I was inspired to write a speech recently for Toastmasters and instead of jotting down some ideas, I spent an hour and a half researching the barest roots of the essential fundamentals surrounding the topic. Does a normal person when writing a short speech about freedom of ideas and intellectual property research Platonic Idealism? Perhaps they do and they are simply faster at it than me. Despite my own derision towards my approach I yearn to read the results that ultimately await.  I want to see come to life a powerful and insightful speech about the relativity of ideas and ownership contrasted with the concept of underlying truths and greater good.  It would be a speech about society and our futures as humans on this floating rock, which is a lot to evolve from the quote, “To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism, to steal ideas from many is research.”.  I become crippled by the burden of that concept, it is too big for me to treat adequately.  My skill is not enough.

Words challenge me.  They challenge me to be used as they pop unbidden into my head from some netherworld of forgotten references.  Half the time I have the meanings wrong and the spelling worse, yet they demand my attention as if they alone can solve the riddle of a sentence.  More often than they should they wend their way into my rose garden and present their difficult barbs to my readers and diverting my careful tending.  It is a weakness I suppose, and one that author's like Stephen King have nearly completely abolished to their great success.  The track record is clear, run without the added weight of complex words and you reach the finish line straighter and faster and everyone remembers how you got there.  Yet, it remains a perniciously persistent predicament which faces me endlessly, needlessly, and heedlessly.

In the end, deep down, I know most of my problem is lack of practice.  Even author's like Stephen King struggled through their first novels and developing a writing system and routine.  Now they bang out a book a year, business as usual, and are having a great time doing it. So maybe I need to take a page from their book and just write.  Get the first draft on paper, even if it is equivalent to what one of my old English teacher's called "Verbal Diarrhea".  At least then that steaming mess of verbs and nouns and ideas has been parked somewhere and I can move on to working with it, flushing it, or starting on something new.

I've written this blog post that way.  Grabbed time I didn't have and blurted it all out.  No revision, no review, no second guessing.  Not even the poop reference.  And aren't we all the richer for it? If you are reading this out in writer/blogger land, let me know how you deal with the difficulty of writing.  What challenges you and makes writing hard?


  1. Hi Tim.
    Just write it. Everyday. Some posts will be better than others and yet, in the end, we'll call it your style; perfect as it is. Keep it up!

  2. I just write the way I speak. I'd like to sit down and write something deep and meaningful, but I've got too short an attention span, and good ideas are hard to hold on to.

    I like this post, unlike the well thought out posts, it's honest. Honesty is more real, more relatable.

    Welcome back to the blog world, we've missed you.

  3. Congratulations on another post celebrating your own assumed brilliance. Do you ever get tired of this particular form of intellectual masturbation or do you just soldier on through the doldrums of it in the hopes of reaching ever greater heights of pretension?

  4. Hello Anonymous. As a troll I'm sure you are aware of the rewards of mental masturbation, so I need not reiterate them and feed your attempts to elicit a dialogue.

    To my other readers, this too is why writing is difficult. As soon as you put your meager thoughts to the page someone, somewhere will think you a fool for them. I guess when it comes down to it writers need courage and tenacity above all else; qualities I'm ashamed to admit I could use more of.

  5. Hello Pompous,

    Interesting how you conflate the act of criticism with trolling - as though the two are synonymous. I suppose it helps because you can acknowledge the one without addressing the other.

    Also, you really must consider changing the title of this post. "My Innate Greatness Perpetually Inhibits My Soaring Brilliance" maybe?

  6. Anonymous, you make a valid point about my dismissing your feedback and I'm guilty of mistaking the vagueness of your negative opinion and the insensitive words used as an attempt to goad an emotional response. I'll reread my post and try to identify the elements that made it prideful and boastful. Tone is an important part of writing and I'm not trying to come across as an expert on anything but my own opinions.
    It's unfortunate that your criticism was so devoid of specific feedback and as my own feedback to you I'd suggest that next time you qualify your opinion with examples. If you feel so compelled, a great help would be suggested wording for particularly offensive passages.
    Thanks and keep up the contributions!

  7. Wow, "Anonymous" tell us how you really feel. Isn't this sort of like coming into someone elses house and saying you hate the decorating for no reason. It's really not very helpful, and it just comes off as mean and petty. It sounds like you have some personal grudge.

    Tim- I didn't read the post as boastful (if I had, do you really think I could have let it slide?), but as you said, it's tough to convey tone. Other people could see it differently, and I think your last comment handled it masterfully.

  8. Hope this helps: