Why writing is hard

I’m going to take a guess that the reactions of those reading that headline will fall into one of two opposing camps. In one camp will be those who rolled their eyes or laughed at the notion that something as mechanically simply as applying words to paper or a screen can be difficult… and in the other camp are those who have written something or tried to.

I think the challenges can be different for every person who has at some stage sat down and tried to tease coherent sentences from the ephemeral ideas swirling through their brain. Perhaps it’s fleshing out an initial, tantalising idea into a fully-fledged plot, or writing convincing dialogue, or having the determination to keep going when you’re secretly convinced that everything you produce is terrible. Perhaps its concentration (I myself am writing this while serenaded in the background by a popular animated porcine and her family – who would be immediately recognisable to anyone with young children).

When a friend or relative has asked me over the past couple of years, since I first announced I was working on a novel, what I’ve found difficult, I always reply that it’s being confronted at the start of every chapter with a totally blank page. There’s something intimidating about that unbroken field of white, demanding to be filled and yet proving oddly adept at repelling any attempts to fill it.

It’s certainly tricky, but after doing this approximately 50 times now I’ve become accustomed to the strange sense of ennui that overtakes one at such moments, and liberal amounts of hot tea and staring solemnly out of the window are all that’s required to get over that hump. But the obstacle that is actually most difficult for me personally is the one over which I have the least control: time.

Like the majority of authors starting out, and even some of those who are well-established, I have a paid job that requires most of my time. I’m lucky enough, right now, to have one that allows me to work from home, so that during any quiet periods, or during the time others would be commuting to and from the office, I can disappear for a while into my world of fantasy and tap out another few hundred words.

But there still never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I would like. I also have a wife and two young daughters (hence the piggy serenade) who I want to spend time with, even if it’s just occasionally stumbling from my office to find walls have been painted an alarming colour and being assured I was consulted on the shade.

My wife, being a wonderful and supportive person, has helped me try to get extended times where I can sit and work on my own writing. Saturday, we have decided is family day and I am at their disposal from dawn until dusk. Family days are great. Sunday, though, is writing day. Sometimes it goes well. Other times, less so.

To demonstrate what I’m talking about, I thought I’d share details of my last Writing Day.

It started off as my fault. After waking (aka being violently jumped on at 6am by two giggling marauders who apparently share my genes), I thought it would be nice to go see a film as a family early on. Our local cinema has showings of kids’ films at 10am at the weekends, so I didn’t think it would take a big chunk out of my day. The film was entertaining, and after getting back home at noon I slunk upstairs to start work. I was still at the staring-morosely-through-the-window stage of starting the chapter when I was summoned back downstairs to be informed that our oven had exploded. This proved to be a slightly melodramatic description, but the end result was the same: the appliance was broken and food could not be prepared. Cue a phone call to a step-father handy with such things, who announced he would come over to take a look, and an hour spent with my head in said oven, tinkering with heating elements and pretending I knew what the problem may be. A trip to the hardware store followed, more tinkering, lengthy discussions about what should be done next. As step-father departed, we had to go out and grab some dinner (as, you know, no oven). By the time I was called in to read stories so that our little marauders would sleep for another few hours before their next assault upon our slumbering forms, Writing Day had consisted of about 45 minutes of quality writing time.

And that, for me, is why writing is hard.

I sometimes fantasise about visiting my past self – nothing drastic, mid-20s would suffice, when time was such a lavishly abundant resource one could even afford to waste it frivolously – and tell him to knuckle down and write that goddamn book.

Of course, that isn’t how it works, and the forays into writing I made then, while ultimately unsuccessful, have all helped me now at this time, as have all the life experiences I’ve had in the meantime. No one is the same person today as they were a decade ago.

And it’s a good thing, because if time travel technology is ever invented that allows you to go back and speak to your past self, that little swine is really going to get a piece of my (his?) mind.


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