Writing Is Easy, Pass It On

Writing is hard, impossibly hard. We all know that.

I mean, look at what you’re doing. Just to get in the game, just as the price of admission, you have to follow literally hundreds of different rules about grammar, punctuation, and spelling – all the time. These rules are arbitrary, contradictory, vague, and ambiguous, accumulated over millennia as English wrapped itself around every other language it could find and absorbed little pieces, amoeba-like. What’s more, no one quite agrees on all the rules. So, you know, good luck with all that.

All the rules above get you no points if you follow them; you only lose points if you don’t.

Next, you need a story. You need to create believable characters, which merely means running the brains of a dozen other people inside yours like virtual servers. You need a believable world, which only means inventing a universe’s worth of specific, concrete, consistent details. You need a good plot, which just means architecting human conflict like a cathedral.

Grab the reader’s interest instantly, but don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. Unite your book with common themes, but don’t bludgeon the reader with them. No cliches. No info dumps. No Mary Sues. Nothing predictable. Nothing boring.

Now, do all the above, and also make it real and powerful and genuine and heartbreaking.

Oh, yeah, and everyone else is doing that, too; so make it different than everyone else’s books.

And if you get a chance, go ahead and wade through a multi-tier system of judgment and rejection in which – and I’m being charitable here – 99% of you won’t make it.

Yeah. Writing is hard.

But here’s the thing: writing is easy. You know why? Because you sit down, and you move your fingers. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Let me say that again: you sit down, and you move your fingers.

Specifically, your job as writer does not require you to do any of the following.

Running into a battlefield and getting shot at by the forces of Muammar Gaddafi. Relying on your own steady fingers to save someone’s life in an operation. Starving. Spending decades in a prison cell. Spending decades hounded by secret police. Jumping out of a plane with no idea what will happen when you land. Sifting through the remains of a town after a tsunami swept most of it away.

I’m not trying to be dramatic or depressing. I’m trying to make a point. If writing is monumentally, inconceivably difficult (and it is), it is also absurdly easy. You sit down, and you move your fingers.

May we all be lucky enough to find a challenge so easy, and so hard.

3 responses to “Writing Is Easy, Pass It On

  1. You sit down and you move your fingers. Yes, that’s just about it. Your list of alternatives reminds me of this quote from Andy Warhol: “[I]f you say that artists take ‘risks’ it’s insulting to the men who landed on D-Day, to stuntmen, to baby-sitters, to Evel Knievel, to stepdaughters, to coal miners, and to hitch-hikers, because they’re the ones who really know what ‘risks’ are.”

    • Or this one:

      “I find funny and silly the pompous kind of self-important talk about the artist who takes risks. Artistic risks are like show-business risks—laughable. Like casting against type, wow, what danger! Risks are where your life is on the line. The people who took risks against the Nazis or some of the Russian poets who stood up against the state—those people are courageous and brave, and that’s really an achievement. To be an artist is also an achievement, but you have to keep it in perspective. I’m not trying to undersell art. I think it’s valuable, but I think it’s overly revered. It is a valuable thing, but no more valuable than being a good schoolteacher, or being a good doctor.”
      -Woody Allen

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