When Writing Gets Hard

 

I would never have thought that I’d get to a point where I’d say “man, writing is hard.”

It’s not that I don’t think it can be hard. It’s not that I ever doubt anyone else when they say this. It’s just… sometimes I feel like for me, writing is a luxury. I’m not making any money off of it yet. I don’t rely on it for income.

And it’s not like I disbelieve anyone else who has talked about writing being hard. It is, however, new to me.

Sure, I will frequently get to certain scenes or parts of the story and struggle, wondering how to solve the problem. Words won’t come out right. Revisions increase exponentially instead of being a quick fix. Characters won’t do what I need or want them to do. Words on the page are terrible and I wonder how in the world I will possibly be able to make them better.

That’s not the kind of writing problem I’m talking about here.

This week I worked with elementary-aged students on computer programming tutorials for code.org’s international week on Hour of Code. They were using building blocks to give BB8 (Star Wars droid) and Steve or Alex (Minecraft) instructions on how to do certain things. Each puzzle added new challenges and at one point, a student said, “This is hard, but totally fun.” I countered with the word “challenging”.

When something is challenging, we generally feel more benevolent towards that task. We want to figure it out. We are motivated to figure it out. Even the term “difficult” has a more positive connotation. We are proud and excited when we can get to a higher difficulty setting on the workout equipment or in our gaming.

We use “hard” differently.

“I can’t do it; it’s too hard.”

That’s what I’d been feeling about writing for about six months. SIX MONTHS. Ugh. When something is hard, we want to quit. When something is hard, we do not enjoy working at it. In fact, it not only becomes a frog to eat, but it turns into the biggest, ugliest frog in the room.

For me, writing looked like insomnia. I had some great characters lined up and loved them and their stories. My plot was solid enough to get going and had lots of room for good exploration. I had the will to write it, but just… couldn’t. I forced words onto the page like an insomniac squeezes her eyes shut hoping that will force sleep – or words to come. Like an insomniac I tried different things to help me out. I did free writing to help explore my characters more. I wrote flash fiction. I focused on research. I kept my playlist on repeat to make sure those characters were living firmly in my head. And at one point I allowed myself to let writing go for a few weeks, to take a break and breathe.

Then I told myself to get back into the fray. I committed to my own realistic version of NaNoWriMo (ie: 25k instead of 50k words in one month) because I knew from experience that once I really slipped into the daily routine, things would start to click.

But they didn’t – until I changed focus and decided to set my current adult characters aside and looked to a latent children’s story idea. I figured this variation of “write something different” might really do the trick.

It did, sort of. I completed a draft of a children’s chapter book and while some parts flowed pretty well, the rest was hard. Not challenging as writing a different genre could definitely be, instead it was often simply hard.

I’m excited and proud of this draft. I plan to make a go with it (unless beta reader feedback says nonononono, ha). I have to confess, though, that finishing that first draft did not carry the same exhilaration.

How does one slip into a phase where writing is hard vs. challenging or difficult? For me, I know there was a primary trigger around six months ago or so, but it’s tough to have any certainty that this was the only trigger. It could be that these characters for the new, adult manuscript I was trying to write into a story are just not resonating enough with me (yet).

I’m leaning with that last bit because something’s changed. I made a solid decision to work on re-writing an earlier novel – my first novel, in fact. I’ve half-heartedly gone back to it many many times, then usually quickly abandon it to concentrate on the newer, shinier ideas – which has always been a good move.

What to do when the new idea isn’t working? Keep slogging away at it? Maybe. Each writer has her own feel for how long of a break to take from writing and how to push through. In this case, I figured jumping into that old manuscript might do its magic like it has in the past.

As it turns it out, it IS working its magic – just not in the same way. I’ve jumped into a full re-write. It’s already so much better than it was, but more importantly, it’s flowing and I’m enjoying the writing again.

It isn’t hard.

It’s fun.

The way it’s supposed to be.

Probably the timeliest reminder that what I’m doing is the right thing for me comes from Jamie Raintree who said this in a recent post:

I’ll add one caveat to the common advice: write stuff just for fun as much as possible. Again, I know it feels natural to go ahead and start getting Book 2[or whatever book #] ready so that once you do get your first publishing contract, you already have the next one in the queue, but you know what? There will be more waiting at that point too. There will be plenty of time to write Book 2 even after you sign your first contract. What you might end up being short on, though, is the sense of freedom you have now. Once you have deadlines, it will be harder to fit in writing just for you. Use this time to play, explore, and get super connected with the reason you started writing. As you transition from amateur to professional, focus and a deep understanding of what you want out of your writing career will be the best gift you can give yourself.

While it’s true that I’ll need to come back to the other ideas in my coffer, hopefully including the one that I’ve temporarily set aside (I really do love those characters and the plot idea, even if I can’t get it off the ground right now), I don’t have any true pressure or deadlines and I love this first book. I’ve never been able to quite shake it or bury it away too deep in a drawer. And now that I have a couple of other novels under my belt, I have even more confidence that I can shape it into the book it needs to be.

Writing indeed, can be hard. Fortunately, it’s important enough to me that I got beyond the “I can’t” and continue to remember the “I can and I will”.

Push through.

When has writing (or any other activity) been truly “hard” for you, if ever? How have you moved past it?

“Settle down I said to myself,

things that come with time 

Will always be better”

 

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2 Responses to When Writing Gets Hard

  1. MJ says:

    “But they didn’t – until I changed focus and decided to set my current adult characters aside and looked to a latent children’s story idea. I figured this variation of “write something different” might really do the trick.”

    That bit reminded me of something I saw recently on Tumblr, about the phrase “kill your darlings.” The idea was that the phrase didn’t mean to literally kill off your favorite characters but to stop trying to force a page/chapter/paragraph/scene around a particular set of words that you just loved and wanted to use. Instead, cut those words out (kill your darling), move on, and see what happens.

    When writing comes hard for me, I retreat back into my imagination and re-visualize the scene. Maybe it’s because I just write fanfiction but need to see what’s happening play out in my head like a scene from the show before I can put it into words. When the words won’t come, I redo the scene in my head. (It’s a good thing I live alone because this usually involves talking to myself and acting out all the parts. ;/) Your advice about going back to edit older work is spot on, too, because if all else fails, editing an old story usually gets me back in the groove.

    Like

    • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) says:

      Move on – yes! When I write, I jump all over the place and rearrange the scenes/knit them together later. This usually helps me a lot.

      BTW, I totally want to put a hidden camera in your writing space now….

      Like

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