Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Writing is Work

Most of the writers who visit this site will understand this, but most of my non-writer friends need to hear me say it - writing is hard work.  It might be exhilarating, joyous, and rewarding work, but it's still work.

It takes dedication to write, for a couple of reasons.  First, you need to craft the story itself.  What goes at the beginning?  How do I develop the main character?  What's the main plotline I need to resolve?

Then you need to write something of sufficient girth.  Sure, I know what happens in the story, so I can take some elements for granted when reading it, but my readers can't.  There should be enough "meat" in the story so it satisfies the reader's curiosity.  Too many books I've read end too early and forget that I want to read a complete tale, not just a snippet that sounded good in the author's head but doesn't translate to the page.

Finally, the story has to sound good.  It needs to be both interesting and well told.  I doubt World War Z would've done very well if Max Boot had started with something like, "A little boy got bit by a bad fish and turned into a zombie.  Sure, his mom could've killed him, but she wasn't that mean."

Most writers don't do this on a full-time basis.  Instead, we write on our spare time - during a break at work, while the chicken is cooking, or after the kids go to bed.  And a lot of the time, we just don't feel like writing.  No, scratch that - we don't feel like getting started, because once we're off and running, the joy returns and we wonder why we ever stopped.  However finding the time in between other commitments means we're cramming in our writing wherever we can and have to do it in snippets.
Most of my friends understand it up to this point.  However, they tend to view writing as a one step process.  "You've finished!" they'll exclaim.  "Now just go get that massive author's advance."  Unfortunately, for those of us who want to do this for more than a hobby, less than half the work is finished at this point.  I've discussed editing several times, and it is a lot more involved than writing the first draft.  The initial spewing of story is the fun part, but now we have to labor over every...single...word until we get it just right.  Then we do it again.  And again.  I don't know any decent writer who doesn't go through their manuscript at least three times, and most do it more often.

Then there are things like brainstorming and outlining.  Some people I know can write a perfect, 110,000 page novel based on what comes out of their head, but I'm not one of them.  If I don't outline, my work ends up terribly short.  I have to envision, in advance, the general framework of the tale.  True, I don't stick strictly to this or go into too much detail(except when I want to capture something specific), but I have to see some of that level of detail or it'll blow over like a house built from straw.
Developing a great piece of writing can be draining from a mental standpoint.  It's not as physically demanding as pouring concrete or banging out sheet metal, but the mental toll can be completely exhausting.  A friend of mine told me a long time ago to get over myself on this, but I ignored him.  Then, after a particularly grueling research project, he came back to me and said he finally understood what I meant.

This post might come across as either whining(which I'm not) or snooty(which maybe I can be at times), but I also hope it helps folks understand that writing isn't all about tweed jackets and warm beaches.  It's about work, and lots of it, if a writer wants to be successful.  Hopefully some people remember that before they see a writer and think that person is goofing off.


  1. Great post Russ. I can relate.....

    for me writing is waking at 4:15 AM...... writing until 6:00 AM....then going to my real job until I return home at 7:00 PM

    On the weekends I write from 5-10 each morning.

    I tell my wife it is my second job.

    Writing is work!