Writing is Easy?

Once in a while I encounter someone for whom writing is easy. Sometimes these are fellow writers who just a have a knack for the craft. Sometimes, they are not writers at all but imagine that if they were, writing would be easy for them. My reply used to be envy, since writing certainly doesn’t come easy to me. But having giving it more thought over the years, I am less envious than I used to be. If writing were easy for me, I don’t know that it would be worth doing.

The act of writing is not terribly difficult. I can put words together to form sentences and I feel pretty confident about those sentences most of the time. For me, the really hard part is storytelling. I imagine a lot of people think that they are good storytellers, but that is the hardest part for me. Getting ideas isn’t too difficult. Decades of experience has taught me how to weed out the bad ideas and keep the good ones around. But telling a compelling story that keeps the reader interested–that is the real difficulty for me.

When I set out to write, I have the general sense of the story that I am attempting to tell. The challenge for me is to tell it in a way that will keep someone reading, keep them turning pages. This is where I struggle. I am sometimes surprised that I managed to sell a dozen or so stories over the years because the hard part, for me, is making that story compelling. With longer form fiction, that is even more difficult. As I work on the first draft of this novel, I have tried to pay attention to the editorial voice in my head, the one I think of as the Director of the story. Here are some notes that I’ve taken over the last week or so that illustrated the constant direction this voice is giving me as I type:

  • That opening is fine for now, but you’ll need something a little stronger in the next draft.
  • Is that really how that character would say that? It sounds a little too formal to me.
  • This part here is just plain slow. Is it even necessary?
  • You are being too coy. You are holding back too much information. The narrator has said they intend to tell the truth, but they are acting as if they don’t want to for the sake keeping the pages turning. Too obvious. And annoying!

Perhaps the most difficult part of telling a big story like this one is keeping it all in my head. Not that I don’t jot notes, or make little outlines of what comes next here and there, but keeping the big picture in front of me at all times. Many writers I know speak of acts and inciting incidents and character arcs, but that’s not the way I think of the story as I write it. I do it by feel, I always have done it that way, and whenever I have tried to think in terms of acts and arcs, what I emerges is, well, junk.

No, the craft of writing, which includes storytelling, is not easy for me. But I’m kind of glad that it isn’t. I watched my steady improvement writing short stories over a period of 14 years until I finally began to sell them. I am hopeful that I can take that experience and apply it to longer form fiction, and see even more improvement over the next ten years, each draft better than the one before it.

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

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