Why is actually writing the hardest part of being a writer?
What is it about putting words on a page that is so hard to do? Especially when it’s something that, for many of us, comes more easily than it does for most?
This is quite a conundrum when you really think about it.
Writers are gifted with the ability to express themselves and their thoughts on the page, and yet, actually getting those words on the page can be as painful a process as pulling teeth, or as difficult as I’d imagine pushing an elephant uphill would be. (Hopefully I don’t ever have to do that).
This quote from Steven Pressfield captures it perfectly:
“It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”
Sometimes the procrastination is so bad that I would rather do anything — anything! — than get my writing done for the day.
That includes reading, eating, wandering around the house, talking on the phone, going for a walk, and even teaching myself about compound interest and comparing the benefits of different savings accounts and investment products. (That last one may sound dire to you — but I actually do have an interest in learning about finance!)
I’m not alone here, either. I’ve read countless books and articles by writers and about writers that seem to suggest that the getting started part is, indeed, the hardest part of all.
Writer and poet Dorothy Parker famously said, “I hate writing. I love having written.”
And that, I can totally relate to. I always feel great when I’ve finished my writing for the day.
Each day that I create something from nothing, it feels intrinsically rewarding, like I’ve accomplished my main task for the day. There’s no denying that the best part, for me, is the part where I’m satisfied enough with the story I’ve created to put it out into the world.
I don’t hate the writing part itself; what I hate is getting started.
Usually, once I’ve gotten started, the words tend to come pretty easily. Whether they’re good or not doesn’t matter — the important thing is that they’re flowing.
There are all kinds of reasons why I love the writing process. It’s a challenge, it helps me learn, and it keeps me curious, among others. So why is it such a struggle some days to just sit down?
Sometimes I wonder if other professions feel this way about their work.
Do actors drag their feet when they have to go and perform? Do professional athletes try to stall when they have a game to play? Do lawyers avoid doing what’s necessary to prepare for their upcoming court case?
No! They just get on with it — because they have to.
It seems ridiculous to think of a pro baseball player trying to hide in the locker room when there are over 50,000 fans sitting in the stands waiting for the game to begin. They can’t hide, and neither can the star of a Broadway show when the curtain is about to be lifted.
They can’t even hide when they mess up; the show must go on!
So why should writing be any different?
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
And that, right there, is the key.
Professionals do the work, because it needs to be done.
If I aim to someday be a professional writer, then I must do what needs to be done — and for a writer, that usually (always) involves writing.
Procrastination is a battle most of us have to fight at times, regardless of whether it’s at work or in our home life. Certain days are harder than others, and sometimes we lack motivation more than other days.
I’m learning this through firsthand experience, watching myself go through this journey of writing every day and committing to publishing something each day as well.
Some days I march right over to my desk, open my laptop, and begin writing. I already have a topic in mind, and so it’s easy to get started. Those days are exciting, and I feel invigorated by the writing!
Other days, I don’t have a topic in my head yet, but I sit down and open my Word document anyway. Within a few minutes of staring at the blank page, something inevitably comes to me. I might not know if it will go anywhere at first, but I start writing anyway.
And then there are the days like I had today, where I would do just about anything to avoid getting started.
It’s a learning curve, and right now I’m still at the beginning of it.
I’m still figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t when it comes to all aspects of my writing — including a schedule. I’m trying different things, and noticing what feels good and what doesn’t along the way.
And what I have to realize is — that’s okay. It’s all part of the process.
Writing is a very subjective endeavour. It will take time and experimentation to understand what is best for me, and how to best go about it.
Every single writer is different, and we all do our work differently. We have different styles, different beliefs about writing, different schedules, and different routines.
How we do our work matters less than doing our work.
And the only way to do the work is to get started.