The Good News? Writing Never Gets Any Easier

First-time novelists often make the mistake of believing their first novels will be the most difficult writing of their lives. Once they’ve stamped finis on Novel #1, their writing worries will be over. They’ll have a handle on this writing gig, and everything from here on out will get progressively easier. As of this week, I’ve written eight novels (I typed “the end” on The Deepest Breath’s first draft a few days ago), and I’m here to tell you that it’s simply not true that writing gets easier with time and experience. In some ways, it actually becomes more difficult.

When I wrote my first (eyes-only) novel, the words flowed, the characters spoke, and the whole thing was on paper in a few victorious months. That first story was nothing but fun. Of course, it also stunk, because I had zero idea what I was doing. What little I learned from that novel, I applied to the second (also eyes-only), and what I learned from the second I applied to the third (you guessed it: eyes-only). With each novel, my awareness of the craft increased a little bit, and with each little bit that my awareness increased, so did the difficulty of getting the story right. By the time, I reached Novel #4—which I can now look back at as a personal writing plateau, a place where I finally got it as a writer—writing was downright hard.

It was about then that I came to the epiphany that writing was probably never going to get any easier. In “On Finding Your Mentor” (Writer’s Digest, January 2011), Dinty W. Moore quotes his professor Vance Bourjaily’s wisdom on the subject:

It doesn’t ever get any easier…. Each book presents a new narrative puzzle, and you start off with no idea how that puzzle can be solved. I begin each book as uncertain of myself as I was when I first began.

Every single book I’ve written has been its own adventure. After those first four novels—and the bout of trials and travails that accompanied mastering the foundation of the craft—I learned that every new book presents its own complicated set of difficulties. Perhaps I was able to master the lessons taught by one novel—but the next novel will offer a completely different set of demands.

At first glance, this might all seem dreadfully depressing. “You mean to tell me I’m going to go through this kind of mental distress and labor on every cotton-picking book?” Yep. “The struggles are never going to end?” Nope. “Twenty years from now, I’m still going to grubbing along, agonizing over word choice and story structure?” Yep. And ain’t it grand?
In his wonderfully encouraging Booklife, fantasy author Jeff VanderMeer explains that the glory is in the struggle:

Because you are uncertain, despite having mastery, you know that your writing is still alive, that you are not simply doomed to repeat the same path you chose so many times before. Because you feel once again as if you are writing your first book, you know that writing is still meaningful to you.

A writing life without any challenges would hardly be worth the effort, now would it? Recognizing, and even appreciating, the fact that writing never gets any easier, frees us from the doubt, and even guilt, of feeling we’ll never be good enough—because the truth is we won’t. We’ll never be perfect, but we can always be better. So, here’s to Novel #9 and a brand new round of lessons to be learned, mountains to be climbed, and story tactics to be mastered!

Tell me your opinion: Has your writing become easier or more difficult with time?

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K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Writing got easier for me, because I switched the type of book from fiction – to non-fiction, personal experiences.

    Doesn’t get any easier than writing about yourself and what you’ve experienced.

    Fiction is damn difficult. I have ADD/ADHD – so, to sit there for a month and write a book everyday, and keep track of who is who, what’s what, is virtually impossible. I cannot believe I finished my first fiction novel.

    Now, if I was to continue writing fiction – and to improve on what I did the first time? Yep, it gets WAY harder because you realize that you need to keep upping the ante. Nobody wants to read a great fiction book you wrote, and the next one is junk. You’ve gotta make successive books rock.

    Good luck to you fiction writers – I think it gets worse for you.

  2. Getting myself into good habits was hard. Keeping myself going is also hard. But the difficulties of writing have forced me to create ways of keeping track – hence my ever expanding wall of post-its.

    It is hard, yes, but the determination to succeed keeps it exciting 🙂

  3. Has it become easier or harder? Both, actually. I think there’s a point where you stop worrying about using dialogue tags and adverbs and start worrying about the bigger things. And the bigger things are often a lot harder to tame. And sometimes you end up struggling a lot with something that other people find terribly easy and don’t get why you’re even having problems. Some of my biggest challenges have been organizally-related issues, and I’ve had people tell me, “No, it must be writing. It can’t be that.”

    Right now, I’m taking a wrecked novel through a how to revise course. The novel ran too short, so I followed the advice of “add more plot” and way, way overplotted it. I’ve spent the 3 months trying to untangle what I have from all the kudzu. I discovered I didn’t always have an antagonist and sometimes the conflict was weak or missing (a lot of “characters discuss things). I also discovered that I have a tendency to start too late (most writers start too early). And I’m still trying to figure out how to get subplots and theme into the story.

    Yet, if you’ve asked me two novels ago if I had subplots, I would have said, “Yes, I have 30.” I’ve since learned those weren’t subplots but a bad problem I have where I accumulate stubs–and it was probably a lot higher than 30! So sometimes it gets harder just because you find out you’re not doing something right!

  4. sure wish i’d read this post two years ago when i started my third novel, but maybe i wouldn’t have believed it. thanks for the encouragement.

  5. Well, I’m glad I’m reading this now!! I just finished my first draft to book #1 in August and am now revising… life has never challenged me more! But now I know to keep my head up and stop waiting for it to get easier… yikes!

    Good thing I love it 🙂

    Excellent post!

  6. Got a lot harder. Did a long, 4-novel series starting in 2005. Didn’t know Jack about story structure and a lot Craft.

    Now, after reading and absorbing tons of Craft, I’m going to do re-writes on all of it.

    Lots to do, lots to put in and lots to take out.

    Too bad, so sad — tough darts. While many of my readers gave very nice reviews, the novels are sure not up to snuff. Lots of work to do.

  7. @Mike: I agree. In my own experience, fiction is by far the most difficult writing medium. Not only ate we dealing with an unknown quantity for a subject matter, we’re also faced with an almost insurmountably (or perhaps I should say gloriously?) wide range of choices in how to tell that story.

    @Miss Cole: I believe it was Faulkner who wrote his story notes on his walls – and then painted them over when he was ready to write a new story. I guess Post-it Notes are the modern version!

    @Linda: In the last year, I’ve worked on two of my own stories, of one which was too long and one of which was too short. Trimming the too-long one was by far the easier job. I definitely agree that the little things get easier with time a experience.

    @Michelle: The knowledge that writing will never be easy is a handy thing to have in the backs of our minds. But, ultimately, it’s still something we each have to experience for ourselves.

    @Marisa: One of the best things a writer can can do for herself is learn to love the challenge.

    @Bruce: It takes a brave and honest writer to admit that about his own work. But brave and honest writers are the only ones who struggle through to produce stories of lasting value.

  8. It can be a bit easier in one sense, because you become more aware of what it takes to write a good book, and have a better grasp of the tools. But I can’t imagine it ever being so easy that you could just sail throught the process, unless you’re writing to a formula and you use that formula for every book. Writing is always exciting, even when it’s hard, because you’re learning and creating at the same time.

  9. Its a blessing writing can never be mastered so we don’t have to worry if we ever reached that level of mastery. Knowing that the best-sellers are not perfect give us confidence that we don’t have to be ‘perfect’ to get publshed

  10. You are absolutely correct. Writing doesn’t get any easier when it comes to books, novels etc. But I have found that I have learned more tricks along the way to help with writing. But with that comes more new obstacles. After all, writing is a journey with ups and downs. I love it! Thanks for sharing.

    The Neophyte Writer http://kristibernard.wordpress.com

  11. @Catana: The act of creation is always difficult. It should be difficult, because it’s the act of pulling something out of nothing. If it’s easy, it’s probably an indication that you’re not creating so much as rehashing.

    @Cameron: Perfectionists might balk at the idea of a craft that can never be perfected, but if you look at it in the light you mentioned, then it’s really a release for the artist. We will never be perfect, so we never have to feel shame for *not* being perfect.

    @Kristi: Exactly. It’s all those ups and downs that make the ride so enjoyable. The more we learn, the more realize there is to learn.

  12. It’s a good thing I have these wonderful posts to remind me if I should ever forget 🙂 Thanks!

  13. Keep writing and enjoy the challenges – that’s really all there is too this writing life.

  14. In my opinion, writing under contract is one of the harder things – especially with a collection of stories, like I’m doing myself. So much editing, so many things going on, it’s so hard to know what good writing even is, anymore. Writing before publication was easier, because it wasn’t good writing and therefore was easy to write. Ignorance is bliss.

    But yes, I must say, I do enjoy the challenges. It’s all I’ve got, now. 🙂

  15. Definitely. Before publication, you’re writing only for yourself. Afterwards, you suddenly have an opinionated audience who holds your career in their hands.

  16. I have thought many times to myself–how in the world do people do this? Ain’t easy.

    In some ways it has become easier for me. I used to become paralyzed when the words didn’t spill out(isn’t it fun when that happens?). Now I’ve learned to write the dreck anyway. It can always be cleaned up later. So getting the story down has become easier. Getting it into shape is still difficult.

  17. I think it’s valuable to realize that writing isn’t easy for anyone – even (especially?) the titans of literature. Knowing that the greats deal with the same pressures, fears, and insecurities, and particularly knowing that they battle through them to reach the end of their manuscripts, gives us encouragement to the do the same.

  18. Thanks for a timely post! For me, the more books I write, the easier I get story ideas, but they all pose new challenges. Each new book is exciting to begin and a lot of work figure out the right shape and how it’s all going to turn out. And then the rewrites. Yep. Hard work every time. You are so right about the freedom of knowing it’s never going to be perfect. The process of just doing it is always so rewarding — that is, when it isn’t agonizing. 🙂

  19. It’s the agony that makes it so perfect, if only because it heightens the ecstasy. The “suffering artist” has become a cliche, but, as with most cliches, it’s grounded in truth.

  20. If it got easier, I’m not sure it would be fun for me any more. I love the intellectual challenge storytelling poses. Mechanics may get easier over time, but the uniqueness of each project makes the writer pull out all the stops every time. Or at least it should be that way 🙂

  21. I agree. If it was easy, I would probably lose interest very quickly. The fact that writing is difficult is what keeps it fresh and exciting with every new story.

  22. I really enjoyed reading this post, because it reassured me that I’m not somehow doing it wrong … because yeah, writing seems to get harder with every book for me. Thanks for the insight.

  23. I think we all go through a phase when our writing seems insurmountably difficult and we begin to wonder if we’ve “lost the gift.” I know I’ve certainly found it encouraging to hear other experienced others say that the process is just as difficult for them as it is for me.

  24. I don’t know if this encourages me or not. I suppose anything is easy compared to my current homework.

  25. In my experienced, writing is always more fun than homework. 😉

  26. Yes writing is hard, but is also easy, to better stated, simple sometimes. The times it is simply you need to record why it is simple, like where were you, what time of day, what had just happened.

    Writing becomes simple for me when I don’t force myself to write, when I have had a break from writing and then come back to it, then it flows, then it’s open, then it is much better.

    Writing being simple for me is being in the right place, I can manufacture that place, it does take some effort and doing things differently; that place many times is simply location.

    I sometimes sit in the large cupboard of my room and write; I’m amazed at how much better my writing is from in there. Then I write with a different pen, a pencil, a red pen, a green pen; something different will make a difference.

  27. Excellent points. We can definitely make writing easier (or more difficult) for ourselves in how we approach it. Streamlining our processes, eliminating distractions, and learning about ourselves, so we can learn how and where we work best, are major contributors to a healthy and productive writing life.

  28. I haven’t actually finished anything, yet, but I know the more I learn about the craft, the harder it is. How I long for the days if writing my first NANO, blissfully unaware of week verbs and adverbs…

  29. I’ve always been a firm believer in “ignorance in bliss.” Unfortunately, I’m far too curious a person to allow myself to remain in that blissful state!

  30. Writing has not gotten any easier- I don’t think it ever does- but I understand plotting, pacing and character arcs better with each subsequent manuscript which means I can self-edit as I go and end up with something that hangs together quite well and is not the utter and complete mess my first drafts used to be. Not that I am infallible of course, but I feel that I have a better grasp of the craft of writing.

  31. The rules of the craft do (and should) get easier with each story. Since grammar and its ilk presents a concrete set of rules, we’re able to master them. Story, on the other hand, is too changeable and unpredictable to ever really learn. I would imagine it’s a little bit like surfing. You master the tenets of the surfboard – but you can never master the ocean.

  32. Getting harder to find time. Seems to be a push on at work for students to write more essays. That means more grading and less time to write.

    Can’t wait for summer vacation.

  33. You and me both – though for different reasons. Inspiration always seems to come easier when I’m not shivering over my keyboard!

  34. In some ways, writing has become easier in the umpteen years I’ve been trying my hand at it. In other ways, it’s harder.

    Easier because I better understand the craft and am more mature in my thinking. Also, I’m more willing to accept constructive criticism than I was initially.

    It’s harder because I don’t have the time any more I want to devote to working on my craft. So while I feel I’m improving, it’s like pulling teeth to be able to do so. :/

  35. It gets harder because my standards get higher!

    Although, some stories just rush out of me, and others I struggle over every sentence. Who knows what that means.

  36. Well… this was depressing.. I finished my first novel and I was POSITIVE the next would be easier.

    But it’s better to know now rather than later… although it doesn’t change a thing : )

    Great Post!

  37. @Liberty: I’ve always said that moms who write are superheroes. I know it’s got to be rough right now, but just think of all the the life experience you’ll be able to bring your writing.

    @Sarah: In my experience, the relative ease or difficulty of a story means very little. I’ve had good stories that just flowed and good stories that were like pulling teeth.

    @Sher: Sorry to be the bearer of bad news! But at least now you know what you’re in for. And, who knows, maybe your next story will be the exception to the rule!

  38. For me, writing has gotten both easier and more difficult.
    I reached the end of my first novel over a year ago. I am still polishing it and still getting rejections from agents. I don’t know if my first book will ever be good enough.
    I am now 2/3 done with my second novel.
    In one way it has gotten easier: I know I can do it.
    But now I know that I know next to nothing about writing. And I expect more out of myself this time
    The comment by Jeff VanderMeer, who is one of my favorite writers, particularly encouraging. If subsequent books are not challenging, then are they worth writing? As long as I have to work at my craft, then it is meaningful.
    Thank you.

  39. Easier because I know what to expect more or less.
    Harder because now I know so much more about how a book is supposed to be written technically, and I’ve realized how poorly crafted my writing really is.
    🙂

  40. at the moment it is staying the same for me, i stop often to remember what i love about it and that usually helps me get through those rough patches, if any body heard the way i spoke about writing they would like i was going to marry it, good times bad times, writing is writing, like any marrage, when its hard it will be so hard and when its easy, will you know, hell yahzz to writing

  41. With each book that’s published the stakes feel higher. I put more pressure on myself. With the deadline looming on this fourth book, for the first time in my writing life, I am finding I’m avoiding the work – knowing that deadline is big and large and so There.

    The more your work is out there, the more people write you to say what they loved and how they can’t wait for the next one – the more you become afraid you’ll disappoint them in some way.

    And it’s ironic -because hearing people say how much they like your work and characters should be the impetus to banging out the work quickly and easily, but instead, sometimes, if you aren’t careful and mindful and if you can’t shut out everything and write the book as you did “Before Publication” then … well!

    But I agree, I am learning something with each book – that’s a cool thing.

  42. Some of the craft gets easier as we learn what we’re doing. POV? What was that? But trying to make each book better than the previous one makes it hard. I think writers have wide streaks of self-doubt. At least the good ones do.

    Terry
    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

  43. I find the quote from Jeff VanderMeer quite poignant. I’m glad to struggle with writing; the consistant challenge always flexes my mind and wit, and I relish in the competition against myself. I’m reminded of athletes that must get up every day to face a new running course or sport they have never witnessed; but they must do so in order to stay on top of their game. The greatest victory comes not from the end result, but the process of getting there.

  44. @C Scott: You nailed it with your comment about writing getting easier with subsequent novels because “you know you can do it.” One of the reasons I keep a writing journal is to remind myself that *every* story is hard, and yet because I’ve managed to conquer the previous ones, I should certainly be able to conquer this current one as well.

    @Amber: Really the key to finding encouragement this whole idea of writing not getting any easier is the realization that knowing what to expect makes a ton of difference. Wading in blind is always scarier than being able to say “been here, done this.”

    @Monique: I’ve always liked the analogy of writing to marriage. We fall in love with a story to begin with, but then we have to be willing to commit to it for the long haul, even when the warm fuzzies are overwhelmed by the harsh realities.

    @Kathryn: I totally relate. Every new reader raises the stakes for us to not only measure up to our last book, but hopefully outdo it. We just have to block out the nagging voices of predicted failure and keep typing away.

    @Terry: When we start out, everything’s easy because we don’t even realize there are rules we’re supposed to be following. POV’s not hard at all, because we’re not even trying to observe it! Then we go through a middle period, where we start realizing the rules – but we still aren’t quite able to master them. *Then* we start to get a handle on the craft, and certain areas definitely become less of a challenge.

    @Aaron: Finishing stories and publishing books is great fun. But I truly believe that if we’re not writing simply because we love the journey of putting words on paper, we’re missing the deeper point – and probably stressing ourselves more than need be.

  45. I’ve gotten *better* at certain things, and I understand the process much better. But I’m not sure that it’s gotten “easier.” So glad to hear I’m not alone in this~ :o) xoxo

  46. Writing is such a solitary venture. But, the truth is, we’re all going through the same experiences – and, thanks to the Internet, we don’t have to do it alone!

  47. I think some aspects of writing do get easier as you learn to follow your own formulas. But as it says in this blog post each book comes with its own puzzle. You still have to figure out the plotlines and why some characters just aren’t working. But when you’ve written books before you have some degree of faith that you can finish this book because you’ve finished other books.

  48. That “degree of faith” plays an important role. Seems like there comes a moment in every story I write when I feel like I’m a total failure and don’t have a chance of writing something salvageable. Being able to look back on previous projects and knowing I pulled out of their own slumps to create worthwhile stories is a huge confidence builder.

  49. I would say; Thank God 😉
    This all frustrations are so much fun that without it, creativity would also be just another 9-5 job 🙂

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