Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Hardest Thing

The hardest thing about writing is starting. I always want to try to come up with some perfect line, like those greats that we read about.  “It was the best of times…”, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Some of the best known books in the world can be picked out by their first lines, and what do I have? “‘Elizabeth Pratt?” Not exactly Dickens, is it? (Here seems like a good time to mention, another hard thing about writing is not comparing yourself to other writers.)

No, I think that is the hardest thing about writing – Not comparing yourself to other writers. I’ve gotten very good at not comparing myself to the likes of Dickens and Tolkein. I’m not dead, so I’ve got a while before I could have that kind of praise. And I understand all of them have at least one notable book, so lack of publication is also working against me here. But there are the more contemporaries too – Toni Morrison, Yann Martel, Kurt Vonnegut. Writers whose ultimate greatness time has yet to tell, but at present have earned the right to be mentioned in the same paragraph with the others. These are the people to whom I can’t help comparing myself. They are my contemporaries. They are not dead “geniuses” who are creating a genre. They are people that are basically doing the same thing I’m doing, just better. (Of course, it could be simply that I haven’t given myself a chance. I’ve only written one novel. I shouldn’t give up too early.)

Yes, that’s it. That’s the hardest thing about being a writer – forget that other stuff. Not giving up too early – that’s it. Because when you’ve got a great story in your head, you hope and wish that it would just magically appear on paper. From my head to your hands – POOF! But when I start writing, it suddenly becomes a chore: Okay, I know I want [Character A] to get to [Place], but how is he going to get there? Does he drive, does he fly, does he take a train? Does he meet anybody, what do they say to him? Why can’t he just appear in [Place] without an explanation?! AHHHHH! And I get blocked trying to decide whether I should even explain the trip to [Place] because how he got there has nothing to do with the plot, but being there is crucial. (On the other hand, I guess I could write it all, and take out the stuff that doesn’t apply. But it’s so hard to edit out what I’ve written – knowing all the effort I put into putting it down on paper.)

Okay, yea, editing – forget the starting, and the comparisons, and the blocks – that was all crap. Editing is definitely the hardest part about being a writer. I mean, I know everything that went into that page, that paragraph, that word in some cases; and to take it out just because it’s “not relevant” is really not a good excuse. I could spend an entire day working on one paragraph, that later I discover does nothing to move the story along. But… a whole day! That’s my life. That’s three or four or eight hours of my life that I’m never going to get back. If I throw away the product of that work, no matter how awful, it’s just wasted time. And if I’m going to waste time, I don’t want to spend it trying find the perfect synonym for the word despair. (Because despair is such a negative, or uh, heart-wrenching, no – um… what’s the word?)

Damnit! You know what? That’s the hardest part – The stupid English language! All that other stuff, you can forget. The English language makes it near impossible to finish a haiku, much less a novel. There are so many words that mean roughly the same thing, and yet the one with the meaning I want, the one with the right connotation, the one that really conjures from the reader the image or emotion or universal understanding that I want, is never in a Thesaurus under the only synonym I can think of. Lets face it, sadness is very different than despair. Despair suggests hopelessness and a no-where-to-go… ishness that you just don’t get with other words. But that’s not really what I want to say. I want to say something like gloom, but stronger – but with hope – but still miserable – but seeing an end in sight, just a hopeless distance off, but still hopeful.

Yes, that’s it – the English language is to blame for my never making it as a writer. Maybe I could try French.


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