Writing Is Hard

One of my old daily senryus showed up on the (far from meta) Book of Face the other day. Since I was desperately trying to finish a book review on deadline — that is, since I was both writing and finding ways to avoid writing — I shared it and noted that I needed to remember the point:

Actually writing,
regardless of quality,
is what keeps me sane.

It generated a lot of discussion. One person, who was also struggling to finish an essay, observed that writing is “the hardest thing in the world.”

That got me to thinking.

Writing is hard. There’s figuring out what you want to say and then there’s figuring out the best way to say it. Both those things can be daunting and difficult, and the more complex the project, the harder it gets.

Take my book review (which is safely finished) as an example. I loved Elie Mystal’s Allow Me to Retort (get it on January 11 when it comes out), so what I wanted to tell people was why I thought it was a good book.

That’s actually hard enough for me, because a lot of my response to what I read — even when I’m reading a book addressing the shortcomings of the U.S. Constitution — is a gut reaction. And if the book is funny — and in this case, the author is very good at being funny even when he’s writing about outrages — I’m too busy laughing to think about the details.

Which is why I put sticky notes all over books I’m going to review. I don’t label them; I just stick them there and then I go back to those (many) pages. That helps me figure out what I want to say when I tell people why they should read this book.

Then I had to figure out how to say it. This review was for a lawyer publication, and while that means I could say “equal protection” or “establishment clause” without explanation, it also meant I needed to make sure my points in favor of the book would pass muster with lawyers.

Lawyers are inclined to argue with things. If you want them to listen, you must at least make it clear that what you said is worth arguing about. Or, in the case of my book review, that what the author said is good legal analysis.

This is, as the person on my FB page commented, hard work.

By contrast, one of the jobs that paid my way through law school — loading trucks for UPS — was relatively easy.

I mean, it was physical labor, so that part was hard (at least until I got into shape). And I had to be at work at 4 a.m., which never stopped being miserable.

But the actual work — watching packages come down a conveyor belt, grabbing the ones for your trucks, and putting them in the right slot — that wasn’t hard.

On the other hand, doing that job absolutely kept me in law school, because I was damned if I was going to spend the rest of my life doing that kind of work.

It wasn’t hard, but it was tedious and boring and required me to get up at an obscene hour of the morning. That’s worse than hard.

There are things that are hard that you want to do — in my case, writing the stories and ideas that pound around in my head. Or training in Aikido, which can be very physically demanding and at the same time challenge you on an intellectual and emotional level.

Those things are hard, but I want to do them because I want to get the result. I want the story, told (hopefully) the way I picture it in my head. I want the deeper understanding I get from training.

That’s worthwhile hard.

I’ll tell you what I really find hard: dealing with all the bureaucracies required to get through modern life. I do open troublesome mail, but I can put off a phone call for weeks. This time of year is always stressful, because I know there are things that must be done before December 31 and they are all things I don’t want to do.

I feel much the same way about updating technology. I wish I could buy a computer and it would last forever, like typewriters do. But no, things change too fast and also the companies make the new one just different enough so that making it work the way you need it to, if not exactly the way you want it to, is not intuitive and takes a lot of time.

That’s hard and, unlike having written, not particularly satisfying once it’s done. I might add that it also gets in the way of writing.

Besides, there’s something else about writing, something that doesn’t get said all that often: Sometimes it’s really, really easy. The words just come. They flow onto the page (or the screen) and fill you with delight.

I’m not sure why we writers don’t talk about that as much. Maybe we’re just trying to buck ourselves and our friends up when we’re going through the tough parts. Maybe we’re just trying not to jinx it. But it happens.

And oh, it is so glorious when it does.

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