Writing Is Hard (Or Is It?)

Is writing hard? This is what we really want to know. We all want to be writers, but is it difficult to actually do the writing? 

Will I have to do any work? Will it be easy? Are there any shortcuts?

Writing Is Hard
Photo credit: Bing Ramos (Creative Commons)

Writing is easy, so long as we put the time in. So what do we make of this? How do we apply it? We start by telling the truth.

How to get a book published

I just read this excerpt from Jon Acuff’s fabulous book, Quitter, the other day and loved it. I think it addresses this question quite well:

When people ask me, “How do you get a book published?” which is just a specific way to ask, “How do you make your dream happen?” they want the same answer I used to want.

“It’s actually pretty easy. You just write a draft of the book, usually over a long weekend, in a cabin somewhere with a vista. Gotta have a vista.

“Then after you write it you give it to a publisher. They fall in love usually faster than it took you to write it.

“Then you go on a book tour that is highly attended and not at all just you sitting by an empty table watching people pick up your life’s work, flip through it, shrug in disappointment, and walk away.

“You then collect royalties, debate whether to let Guy Ritchie turn it into a movie, and pick out where you want to live now.

“That’s probably the hardest part of the whole book-writing experience, deciding what to do with your money. Are you a beachfront cottage or a mountain chalet person?

“That’s the real dilemma of book writing. Picking your second home. Huge hassle.”

Of course writing is hard. It’s gruelingly difficult. And then again, it’s not. Really, how hard is it to sit down and start typing? Not very.

So why do we writers struggle so much with this act that, in some ways, defines who we are and what we do? I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s not the writing that’s the problem.

It’s the writer.

Why writing ain’t easy

Writing is hard because we’re human. We’re scared, fragile beings who think of every single excuse to procrastinate that which we ought to be doing.

When was the last time you woke up and the first thing you thought of was washing the dishes, doing the laundry, and mowing the lawn… and then you actually did those things?

If it was yesterday, you’re not a writer. Go back to being productive and let the rest of the slackers finish this article.

What do we do with this craft of writing? What we can: we begin. We don’t promise to write  a book overnight. We start small.

A sentence. Then, a paragraph. Then 500 words. And that’s good enough for today. Tomorrow, we may even shoot for 1000. And little by little, the battle is won.

Every day is a new chance to experience a small victory or defeat. If you win, great, but it was only a small victory. If you lose, that’s okay, because it was only a small defeat.

But you must get up and do it all again tomorrow.

The real hard part

This is what is hard about writing: it never ends. You can put your “game face” on for 24 hours or a week and succeed. But that’s not what makes a writer. That’s why we call it “the writing life” — it consumes who you are and what you do.

The difficulty of writing has nothing to do with pen and paper, monitor and keyboard. It has to do with heart and soul and the mind behind the words.

That’s the real hard part of writing, the part that will experience all kinds of internal resistance: convincing yourself that no excuse is good enough to not write.

So now that you know the hard part, the rest is easy. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll be any good. But at least you know why you must start — and that you can. (By the way, if you want to get better at starting, you should read The War of Art.)

Hemingway quote
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What do you think? Is writing hard? Share in the comments.

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87 thoughts on “Writing Is Hard (Or Is It?)

  1. The act of writing isn’t hard just as the act of talking isn’t hard.  What’s hard is composing something you’re confident enough about to expose to the public, and even still…
    if you wait to be 100% confident, you probably won’t ever expose anything to the public.

    What’s hard is having the courage and the willingness to ship it anyways and having the humility to continue learning… to continue writing.

  2. I don’t think writing is hard but the pressure to write something amazing every time is hard on me. I say this a lot, but I always edit too soon. I want to be an amazing writer without putting the time.

  3. My experience is that writing IS hard. Planning and plotting is easy – and a lot of fun. Researching is challenging, but stimulating. Writing?  It’s HARD. Not the typing the words bit, but the telling the story bit, the sharing the message bit, the reading for the fiftieth time and starting all over again bit. The fact that it feels endless is hard too. When it’s done with enthusiasm and excellence, however, it’s a joy. A lot of joys require a solid investment of hard work. Perhaps that adds to their intrinsic, enduring joy.

    1. Thanks, Elisabeth. If nobody is going to read it, I find that writing is easy, but if I KNOW I’m going to share it, it makes the writing part that much more difficult. I don’t understand why.

      1. Oh, yes, so true! That explains why writing an entry in my diary (or a letter to a friend – which has a small and friendly audience) is easier than writing a chapter of a book. I’m not sure about the psychology behind that however!

  4. I think writing takes discipline. There are so many distractions out there and they are so annoying! Even right now, I am being distracted by this post when I should be running. Not that your post is annoying, it is actually quite good and spot on. Everyone today wants things to be quick and easy, but most of the time you actually have to work to create something worthwhile.

  5. Was thinking about this very thing on my walk this morning. The volume you crank out it amazing. I am so hard on myself, especially when it comes to writing articles for magazines that I drive myself crazy editting.  When do you get past that point?  I have been writing for four years and wondering if I will ever be able to write more volume with speed.

    1. Never. You have to commit to shipping your best work every day. It’s a discipline. You don’t get over it, but you learn to accept. I don’t even think of it as having a choice. I HAVE to write something every day. For you. For the blog. For myself.

      1. I write every day but when I have deadlines for articles it is hard to find the time to write for the blog every day.  Just wish I was faster at cranking posts out.  When I write fast, it isn’t my best content.

  6. I really love the excerpt you have there from Quitter, that’s pretty fantastic. 

    It’s true that the physical part of writing (typing on the keyboard, writing in a journal) is easy, but coming up with the words, staying focused, then editing until you’ve made it the best it can be is SO difficult. 

    Then being patient with yourself, with your writing, with having to take the time to improve your craft…well that’s even harder. But in the end, it’s all worth the time and effort you put into it. 

    1. Avalon, that’s not writing. That’s editing and word-smithing. Writing isn’t hard. The hard part is beginning. Pardon my saying so, but it sounds like you make it more complicated than it has to be sometimes. Best of luck to you!

  7. what an inspirational post. 🙂   I love that the only thing holding me back from saying I’m a writer is (me)…. I can embrace this new journey when I recognize that.

  8. There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank screen and a blinking cursor. It mocks me, it laughs at my neck-stretching exercises, my fingers are intimidated, my palms sweaty. Then I start writing. After an hour or two, I turn to it and mock the absence of white, the characters spread all over what once was an empty screen. Before I walk away or hit close, then the very words I used to overcome the mocking, empty screen, they begin to mock me. They laugh at the verbs I used. The word count, the sentence structure, my punctuation. Another hour putting in fixing that up. 

    Is writing hard? Yes, yes it is. They mock me… and often… they win. 

  9. “And little by little, the battle is won.”  I love that, and it truly is that simple.  The actual writing is nothing compared with the discipline it takes to sit down daily and write.  That’s where I struggle and usually fail.  But no more!  It’s that Resistance that Pressfield talks about, and it needs to be reigned in before we can start comparing fabrics for the curtains framing that vista.

  10. Writing as a journalist and then for a government, then a corporation, taught me that writing is work in the sense that you have to sit down and produce. When I write for myself, either fiction or nonfiction, the hard part is not the writing but what happens after – trying to get an agent, building a platform, etc. That’s the hard part, I think!

  11. One of the best things I’ve ever done as a writer was NaNoWriMo in 2008. Check it out. https://www.nanowrimo.org/

    This process showed me that I can write, that I do have the time and I can finish a book. I highly recommend doing it. It’s coming up soon. NaNoWriMo removes all the excuses and forces you to crank out content. It’s not about quality. It’s about word count. Later you can go in and as Twain says, “cross out the wrong words.”

    Having a partner in the challenge with me proved invaluable. 

  12. Funny article. I had a creative writing teacher in high school, who I think was a little pissed that he was only teaching high school when his brother was a “real writer”. Anyway, he used to say that when you don’t know what to write about, write about not knowing what to write about.  That always helped me get unstuck.

      1. My pleasure, Jeff.  You’re one of the few bloggers that consistently puts out good material and I enjoy reading your articles.  Gotta look out for the Nashville kids too!

  13. Writing doesn’t seem hard at first, but after a while, it does get difficult. Staying consistent, writing when you have no inspiration, pushing through when you’d rather do anything else, even the pressure to make sure everything you write is the best thing you’ve ever written – it can be hard,  but I still enjoy it.

    1. Me, too. Weird, Jason, I find that the more I do it, the more natural it seems to come. I would have never imagined that I could be writing a blog post every day in addition to multiple guest posts per week AND 500-1500 words per day. I’m not bragging; I’m celebrating. Discipline begets discipline.

  14. Writing isn’t really hard. Writing well is, heh.
    To me, writing well takes a serious investment of time – and the tough part is clearing my schedule away for that writing time.

  15. Writing is indeed hard, but “heroism comes not in the mere exercise of a superpower, but in the superhero’s triumph in the face of a momentous struggle.”

    Struggling to Use Your Superpower

  16. Very true, Jeff. Sometimes it does seem that writing is a tough job. But it’s we ourselves who make it a difficult job. And as you very well said, instead of writing an epic overnight, it would be wise to start small and end well. 

  17. The more I read your stuff the less I think of you as a writer and the more I think of you as an artist or creative. This is such a great question to ask.

    I think the answer is yes AND no.
    Yes, writing is hard because otherwise everyone would be doing it.
    No, writing isn’t hard because everyone can do it.

    Will-power, inspiration and good old fashion sweat are contributing factors as well.

          1. Never. Btw, I assume you’re writing a physical hard/paperback book. WHEN it publishes I’ll be first in line at your book tour. That is of course if you plan on visiting Seattle. Otherwise I’ll settle for a signed copy to review on my blog. 😀

  18. Writing is as hard as doing 25 push-ups.

    I guess it depends on how many push-ups you did yesterday and the day before that.

    I guess I need to go do some push-ups and write about it.

  19. My favorite quote on writing:  “There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein” (Red Smith).  And there’s this from Chris Brogan: “The world doesn’t make
    it easy for you to write.” If you have to write, you have to write. If you don’t, you won’t.

  20. I liked the idea of starting small and not worrying about the whole thing, just focusing on each small battle. Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the most effective…

  21. Bad writing is easy- I’ll tell you that much!  Another great post; it inspired me to write some more today.

  22. We’re afraid of our own feelings and we over analyize. That’s my theory, anyway. Then, we go to the bookstore, and look at the utter garbage that some people manage to publish (and, let’s be honest: publishing a book is not necessarily related to talent) and we realize that all that person has is persistence – which is half the battle. 

  23. Interesting post Jeff! 

    Something I can so well relate to being a freelance writer myself. And yes, writing doesn’t come easy, in-fact getting down to write is the main task to accomplish. Once you start, it is alright, though you have to give yourself that PUSH every single day to get going. It gets a little more difficult for women writers who have to juggle between their home, kids, and also write! 

    I guess for succeeding, you need to chalk out a time for writing, discipline yourself, and just get down to it, with a determined aim to accomplish some bit of writing daily- without making any kind of excuses!

    Thanks for sharing!

  24. The first time I realized that writing was actually very easy, is when I simply talked in my writing.   Who am I talking to?  Then get write to it. And I did. Then I read an article in some Harvard journal that good writers write regardless of the content. They just do it every day, not particularly for a specific reader, so again pages in journals about life.  In a style that is similar to my spoken language. If I keep to my own spoken language it takes away from the challenge of trying to be anything different than who I am, as a writer.  Taking time to develop the structure and grammatical elements were taken off the table.  Important? Yes, but were my stumbling blocks which kept me from that next paragraph, because well I was not clear on the rules of writing. Rules?  Take those away for now, and just write and then you can always get a well intended English major, or my husband to reread with a red pen.

    1. “…good writers write regardless of the content.” 

      That’s something I really need to remember. I think WAY too often about how I want the people reading my story to like it, how I can make it good. Better. Great. I really need to remember that the people reading it don’t matter. I don’t need to worry about it being good, I just need to write for the sake of writing, not for making others enjoy it. 

  25. Procrastination. That’s what I fight against. It’s the one thing that makes it take 8 hours to get 20-30 minutes worth of writing done. 

    Finding what your creative blocks are is step #1. Then, it’s just a matter of creating the environment that helps you over-come those creative blocks to get it done. 

  26. Jeff, your articles are wonderful. Really. I’ve just started reading them over the past few days and I’ve noticed a massive difference in my attitude towards writing. Thank you. 

     I think a lot of us write out of necessity. There is something within us all that feels that we need to give or to perish. Knowing this, for me, makes it easier to turn up everyday. In order to be authentically me, I need to write. 

    Elizabeth Gilbert TED talk on creativity speaks of this. After the success of Eat, Pray, Love she learnt that even if she wouldn’t have another success like that book, her job was to turn up each day and do the work. 

    1. Oh, I completely agree! One day, I decided I didn’t want to be a writer anymore. I wanted to do other things, so I spent about 6 months not writing. I felt like I was never going to finish a book anyways, and the one book I had gotten far on was going NO where. However, 6 months after deciding this I couldn’t take it anymore! I just HAD to write. Writing IS a necessity. I don’t write, I get this itch to do so! Definitely agree with what you said.

  27. i sat down this morning to make a start on a scene and found myself stuck. after awhile of being stuck i googled “writing is hard,” hoping for some helpful nudge, which you’ve provided with this post. thank you. wonderful site, by the way; i’m going to take a look around.        

  28. Yes, writing is blooming hard! Overcoming my 43-year period of chronic procrastination has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. BUT the struggle has been totally worth it. (‘The War of Art’ is great but ‘Turning Pro’ has pretty much changed my life!) Great post.

  29. If you have a story in you. You work on it a piece at a time. It should not be hard.
    You will enjoying getting the story down. Make notes or an outline and start writing. You get as many drafts you want after the first draft. Butt in chair every day. You will have fun, and it won’t seem too hard.
    Read Jeff’s encouraging blog, and others on writing and each step will become easier. Write something small, no rules, just type and see how easy that can be. Practice, practice, practice, and your novel or short story will come.

  30. I remember in high school english, our teacher gave us a writing task. We simply had to write what ever popped into our heads. Punctuation etc was not really a focus. Just write, fluid writing for 5 minutes, non stop. I believe it was this exercise which first sparked my passion for writing. I wrote poetry as a teenager, to ease the angst. It was years later, many years later, when the writing bug bit again. I had written for work, but I had not written for pure pleasure in such a long time and I had missed it.

  31. writing is fcking hard, I get stressed by it. But I love that stressed, and I know i’m gonna be more stressed if I DON’T write

  32. Writing is hard… but you know what’s harder? killing your dreams, suppressing your passion and letting the story inside you fade away and be forgotten…

  33. I love this! The Hemingway quote is a classic that I never get tired of seeing, too. The main reason writers fail is fear of rejection. You put your soul into every word and what if someone doesn’t like it? The fear is paralyzing sometimes, but the joy when someone clicks the ‘Like’ button or comments on your work is so worth it! Thanks for sharing, Jeff, as always you hit it right on the head! 🙂

  34. The other hard part about writing has to be the emotional connection.

    Before Christmas I got an idea for a fan-fiction stuck in my head.
    I sat down, started to write, and had the first 1,300 words written before I had to stop.
    Everything had been going smoothly, I’d introduced the main character and her two companions, and then I started writing about the fourth character…

    I’ve watched “Old Yeller”, “Where the Red Fern Grows”, AND “My Girl” without a tear, so I thought a tragic scene would be easy, but something about killing off your own character hurts so much more, especially when you’ve still got several thousand words left before it actually happens.
    And it’s not even something I can pretend doesn’t happen, as the story itself is about how the main character deals with the death of the fourth character.

    I tried cheering myself up with music in an attempt to get through it, but that came with it’s own problems.
    It quickly became obvious that I couldn’t write while happy because my characters weren’t happy, and I needed to be in their frame of mind to write them.
    so for the past week I’ve been trying to brace myself emotionally, prepping myself to do something so much harder than I’d originally thought it was going to be.

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