5 reasons why we all find writing difficult.
by Daphne Gray-Grant
Here’s a question I get at least a hundred times a year: Why is writing so damn tough?
But get this. The question doesn’t come from just business owners who are “dabbling” in writing – it also comes from, wait for it, professional writers!
On the theory that the first step to solving the problem is diagnosing it, let me present the five reasons why I think this complaint about writing is true for just about everyone who tries the job:
1) The writing process itself is largely invisible: If you watch a mechanic fix an engine or a chef bake a cake, you can see exactly what they're doing. But watch a writer and all you'll see is a bunch of coffee-drinking, maybe some cursing and, if it's a good day, some fingers flying across the keyboard. Not very instructive.
2) The results are mostly subjective: While all of us can probably agree on examples of terrible writing, it's much harder to get consensus on excellent writing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, says the old aphorism. Or, "Editors are people who know what they want -- when they see it," according to journalists. (Note: While sales writers can usually measure their writing results, they can do so only after the writing.)
3) Writers work in isolation: What could be lonelier than sitting at a desk, ignoring the allure of email and the telephone and just writing? Multiply the problem a hundredfold if you work from a home-based office and don't get to say hi to anyone on your way to grab a cup of coffee.
4) We have an almost universal tendency to try to write and edit at the same time: I blame this habit on the school system. Conditioned by 12 years of red pencil corrections from teachers focusing on spelling, grammar and syntax, we desperately want to "get it right." Trouble is, we'd be far better off getting it "wrong" but at least getting it on paper and fixing it later.
5) We're often unconscious of the "critical voice" inside our heads that tells us we're crummy writers and holds us back: Sorry to play psychotherapist here, but life has taught me that any time we listen to the critical self-chatter in our heads, we're asking for trouble. True, you can't stop the voice, but you can be aware of it and refuse to allow it to stop you from writing.
So my message today is simple. Don't think of yourself as the only person in the world who struggles with writing. You have plenty of company. The difference between a professional and an amateur writer is that the professional keeps plugging away, certain that continual practice will lead to continual improvement.
Or, to quote Peter De Vries: "I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning."
A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8 1⁄2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. It's brief. It's smart. And it's free.