Why is writing so hard?

Given the time and space, I can write pages of stream-of-consciousness writing, journal type writing and non-fiction. I can type for several hours, not needing to research and therefore not getting distracted by the internet. This type of writing does not need much, if any, plotting, and just flows onto the page.

I find writing fiction much harder, both the plotting stage and the ‘getting the right words down’ stage. I find coming up with ideas for stories very difficult, and when I do have an idea, writing it down, snowflaking it, making sense of it and turning it into a story with arcs and a good plot is incredibly hard. Once that plot is there, however, outlining the various chapters becomes a pleasure. I can finally see where the story is going, type a synopsis and feel that a full novel (or short story, or other) is now a possibility. Once the chapters are outlined, it is almost physically painful to try to write the chapters out in full, to get the right words, in the right order. Contrary to popular advice to ‘get a first draft out and edit later’, I find I have to edit as I write, needing as near as possible perfection with each word and sentence before starting the next.

The alternative to this method of plotting and planning and outlining is often referred to in writing circles as ‘pantsing’ – writing by the seat of one’s pants; starting at the beginning and seeing what comes out of your pen or laptop. Having always been a plotter, I was reluctant to try this. What if nothing came out, or worse, what if I wrote the start of something and then didn’t know how to continue the work, or how to finish the story? Would it be a waste of writing time? I decided to attempt this method last month with a young adult story I’d had a vague idea for in the back of my mind. I had no idea how, when or where the story would start until I sat down to write.

I quite surprised myself by writing around 15k words over the summer including a sound start to the book that I was pleased with. The characters started forming in my head as I wrote and the world started to build. I can see why this method works for some people, it certainly has its advantages, the main one being that I actually enjoyed the writing out of the story. However, I picked the story back up recently and tried to continue the plot, and I soon realised the downfall. The rest of the story just wouldn’t work unless I changed almost everything I had already written. I have wrestled with this for some time – do I change what I’ve written, or do I change the continuing plot to fit what I’ve written? I have yet to come up with the answer and have temporarily abandoned the project. I really need to know what happens step by step and to know the ending before I can be confident of completing the story.

The short answer to ‘why is writing so hard?’ is that it often feels frustrating and the words (the exact right words) just won’t come out. So, why do I write? I love the feeling of having written. There is such satisfaction in watching my word count rise and reading back a piece of work and being astonished at it. This makes the journey worthwhile.

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