“Why do writers always talk about how hard writing is?” lamented an anonymous query in my inbox recently. “Can’t you all talk about the good stuff for a change?”
Sure. Let’s talk about the joy of writing.
Why Do We Talk About the Hard Stuff, Anyway?
Anonymous Commenter isn’t wrong here: a lot of writing advice on the Internet is about how dang hard writing is. The percentage of “how dang hard writing is” advice appears to be even higher on sites like Quora. And there’s a reason for this.
A lot of people who seek out writing advice want two things:
- Shortcuts to the hard work, and/or
- To skip the work altogether and get to the luxurious utopia of Having Written.
The replies, then, are aimed at bursting this double bubble. Because there aren’t any shortcuts, and nobody reaches the halcyon shores of Having Written without first braving the turbulent seas of Doing Writing.
And Doing Writing is hard. If The Odyssey wasn’t an allegory about writing The Odyssey, it should be.
If Writing Is That Hard, Why Does Anyone Do It?
My high school band handbook included the promise that participation in band would teach us “the joy (as opposed to the “fun”) of hard work.” Like most of the high achievers in the room, however, I didn’t learn that joy in band. I enjoyed band because I already knew how hard work paid off.
I learned it by writing.
Writing is…not that fun, actually. At least not for me. Having written is fun. Turning things in ahead of deadline and watching them get published without a single editorial change is fun. Hearing people tell me how much they liked my novel is fun.
Writing is not fun. Writing is joy.
I used to share a rink with several Olympic champions, hopefuls, and hopefuls-turned-champions. I knew from watching them that they skated on a totally different level than I did, and I’m not talking about technical skill. They were driven to excel at every aspect of figure skating in a way that I simply wasn’t. I was content to be good. They weren’t even content to be great.
Writing is my Olympic sport. I’m not content to be good at it, and the moment I achieve “great,” I guarantee I’ll be looking past it asking, “What’s next?”
That kind of joy is tough to explain. Most people look at drudgery and see drudgery. Those of us who look at the same drudgery and see the deepest desires of our hearts seem weird, if not downright insane.
A handful of recent “joy moments” I found in writing:
- Tossing my manuscript across the room and yelling, “I am sick of finding plot holes in this damn thing!”, while being proud of myself for finding them because it means I can send a stronger book out the door.
- Realizing why my B plot felt contrived while in the middle of a wind symphony rehearsal and scribbling notes on how to fix it on the back the first clarinet part of Grainger’s Themes From “Green Bushes” (it was a photocopy) instead of actually playing Themes from “Green Bushes.”
- Reading four cases on expert witness evidentiary standards in order to write one clean, concise, accurate paragraph.
- Typing up 5000 words of revisions and realizing, hey, these actually aren’t terrible.
But there’s something more important than joy.
Writing isn’t merely joyful for me. Writing is my Hedgehog Concept.
Your Hedgehog Concept, as Jim Collins explains in Good to Great (2001), is the idea, process, or goal that fits into all three of the following categories:
- You can become better than anyone in the world at it.
- You’re passionate about it.
- People will pay you to do it.
Most companies and even more individuals never find their Hedgehog Concept. Some never find the thing they have the skills, character or talent to become the best in the world at. Some never find their passion. Some never figure out how to get paid for what they do even if it meets the first two criteria.
My Hedgehog Concept is writing.
I’m not the best in the world at it, but I have the education, talent, character and drive to become so, if I choose. I’m passionate about it, and I have been since I understood what books were. And people have been paying me to do it ever since I started submitting work to places that paid for it.
Yes, writing is hard. It’s not “fun.” It’s deeper than fun. It’s my Hedgehog Concept, and having realized that, I’d be a fool to abandon it.
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