Today, we’re getting together as a group to discuss which aspects of the writing process are hardest. For different writers, different parts of the process are most challenging. For some, it is plotting, for others crafting memorable characters, and for others, it may be writing believable dialogue or choosing details to use in description or how much of an author’s research ends up in the final work. Feel free to chime in with your comments.
Kate Flora: I have been at this for about thirty-five years now, and so for me, different aspects present as my hardest challenges at different times and in different books. In the beginning, it was often how to nail my characters’ voices, and pay attention to the nuances of speech among men and women, older people and younger, the effects of different levels of education, and habits of particular characters. I had to learn (and often relearn) to shut up and listen. I tell my students that one good place to listen without seeming to be rude is store dressing rooms. (Not in the last year, of course) And for guys, who may not be chatty in dressing rooms, Dunkin’ Donuts, especially in mid-morning, is a great place to sip coffee and eavesdrop.
Sometimes, especially when I’m working on a thriller or a nonfiction book, pacing, or organizing the material in a way that will make it compelling and urge the reader forward is a challenge. There is always avoiding the sagging middle, and remembering that if what I’m writing bores me, it will likely bore the reader as well.
In the early years, I used to hate revision, and would start another book instead. Now I see revision as the chance to tie up those careless loose ends, improve the prove, make sure the plot and characters work, and find those damned places where a word is missing.
Maggie Robinson: What isn’t hard, LOL. I have great difficulty following any sort of outline, as my characters inevitably do not care for the path I originally chose for them. So they strike out, amidst much grumbling (theirs AND mine), on their own, with varying results. I used to think writers were crazy when they blamed their characters for willfulness, but 20+ books in, I’m crazy now too. Consequently, I am often surprised by the turn of events, and have to go back to “fix” things.
I love to write beginnings, but like a lot of people get mired in the mucky middle. I know if I feel I’m flagging, it will seem deadly to the reader, and I’m not talking about murder. So I have to remind myself that the second act should be just as much fun as the first, and lead logically to the third.
John Clark: The writing is easy. It’s everything that follows that’s the hard part for me. Lazy? Cowardly? Fear of Rejection…Who knows. I’ve got four books completed, but not edited in my Wizard of Simonton Pond series, An anthology of Ya stories about Maine kids, plus four more YA fiction titles in various stages of completion. At 73, however, the grim reaper sits atop my book case nodding and whispering “Time’s a’runnin out bubby, better get cracking if you want any of this drivel to see the light of day.”
Susan Vaughan: Like Maggie said, what isn’t hard! But I’ll choose one. Conflict. Conflict, as writers know, is what drives a story. Here’s an example of what doesn’t work. Bill needed a job or he’d starve and the gang would kill him. Bill got a job and then he was safe and fed. The End. Boring. You’d close the tiny book’s cover after a few pages. But suppose Bill struggles throughout the book, barely making it alive to the end. You’d want to know page after page how he fared.
When I first began submitting to publishers, the rejections usually said the writing and the plot were good but there wasn’t adequate conflict. They meant the characters’ internal conflicts, their personal issues, not what I described for poor Bill. It wasn’t until I figured that out that I sold my first novel, which will be 20 years ago in June. And it hasn’t gotten any easier finding my characters’ inner demons and creating the plots to force them to face and deal with those demons. In my current project, Genuine Fake, Boyd blames himself for his Special Forces’ buddies’ deaths and believes he can’t be trusted to protect anyone. So I force him to be responsible for protecting Gemma, the woman he’s never forgotten and who asks him for help, because someone is trying to kill her. I hope I’ve made this work so readers will keep turning the pages.
Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: Yes, it’s all hard, but for me, right now, the hardest part is getting going again. I’ve taken a rather long break from doing any new writing. Although I’ve been revising older projects and self publishing them, that’s not the same thing as creating a new novel or short story from scratch. The longer I go without facing that blank screen, the harder it is to talk myself into committing myself to the long months of work involved in producing a novel. The idea of writing several proposals is even harder to face, since each one would involve an emotional investment in characters and their story with no guarantee any editor out there will be interested in the result. I’m past the point of trying to come up with something someone is “looking for” in order to make a sale. Whatever comes next has to be something I want to write.
Maureen Milliken: Writing is “hard” in that it takes a lot of attention to detail, mental energy and time. Often, those things aren’t fun. But if you really hate them, that’s going to be the hardest thing about writing and you may want to consider why you’re doing it. I’m not saying stop doing it, I’m just suggesting you consider whether you feel driven to write, or if you’re motivation is simply to be “a writer.” You can’t be one without doing the hard work. For many years, I was an editor in the Writer’s Digest self-published book contest and have read hundreds of self-published books. The number one issue (tied with really awful “editing”) is that people were submitting first drafts. They hadn’t done the work. I’m a writing dork, I guess, who actually enjoys the work. The hardest thing for me is finding the time to do it, with three jobs that keep a roof over my head.
Creating the first draft is nothing but fun for me. The revision is difficult. It’s necessary, I know, but it’s a slog filled with doubt, often regret, frustration, etc. Even if the final product is “better,” it feels less natural, fresh, pure, etc. In some ways, it’d be like finding a natural ice cave…beautiful, white, natural…and someone says, “Well, the key to ice caves is revision. I mean, 3 people can’t walk abreast in here, and what if a 6’8″ person tries to walk in here, and those dark corners need light and…” There’s a part of me that resists, that says, “This sprang up this way, organically, and even if we make it ‘practically’ better, even if we bring it up to code, we’re losing something special.”
Within the work, the toughest part for me is finding the sweet spot between giving the reader enough, and letting the reader do more of the work.
When it comes to publishing, I’ve had more ups than downs, but I have to say the worst is contradictory “advice.” I’ve literally had someone advise revisions, to change X to Y, and then after resubmitting, the SAME person says, “Perhaps we should consider changing Y to X” as if they’d never seen it before. That went on for years. But for the most part, 95% of the time, I’ve loved working with agents and editors.
The last difficulty is the most common for writers- time. It’s not just finding time, but the right time. Those who don’t write will sometimes say something like, “Well, you have time right now. We don’t have to leave for another 30 minutes.” I don’t know about y’all, but when I’m 60k words into a novel, I’ll need 30 minutes just to clear my throat… If I don’t have 2 hours minimum at that stage, I will feel pressure throughout the attempted writing session, and it won’t work for me. My favorite time to start writing is at 5:30am, and to write until maybe 9-9:30am. Or how about the “I know you want to write, so don’t let the family picnic interfere”? The guilt alone will prevent my writing…
Sorry, this is turning into a therapy session. Haha. I’m off to go write something.
Thanks for sharing, Kevin. Is it finding time or making time? That is always the question.