Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why Writing is So Hard

Keith Ridgeway on why writing fiction is so hard, but yet still gives us meaning:
I’ve written six books now, but instead of making it easier, it has complicated matters to the point of absurdity. I have no idea what I’m doing. All the decisions I appear to have made—about plots and characters and where to start and when to stop—are not decisions at all. They are compromises. A book is whittled down from hope, and when I start to cut my fingers I push it away from me to see what others make of it. And I wait in terror for the judgements of those others—judgements that seem, whether positive or negative, unjust, because they are about something that I didn’t really do. They are about something that happened to me. It’s a little like crawling from a car crash to be greeted by a panel of strangers holding up score cards.
The whole thing is worth a read (via Sonia Gil)

Art: Муки творчества by Leonid Pasternak






40 comments:

MIa Marlowe said...

I haven't gotten to the "cutting my fingers" stage. However, I often feel like I'm having a Monet moment--too close to the story to see anything but disjointed blobs of color.

Jory said...

I find the hardest part to be just following through with one idea from start to finish.

After you've finished one, does it get easier to finish another?

Laurapoet said...

"A book is whittled down from hope..." I love that.

Sarah Shellow said...

This article is fabulous. Now, I feel normal. Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I think it's a different process for everyone. I never felt that way.

Mark Anthony Given a/k/a The King of Montana said...

I find it easy and enjoyable....
. . .

This dummy had cased the main branch of Wells Fargo Bank in downtown Helena, Montana for a day and a half from across the street, trying to work up the courage to rob it. He had never robbed anything before but you had to start somewhere. From across Grizzly Gulch or Main Street on the second floor of a public parking garage he waited until he couldn’t wait anymore. The bank took up the entire block and the front door was electronically controlled and the bank closed at exactly four o’clock. When you walked into the front door you had to enter thru double glass security doors. Brainstein waited until 3:59, walked into the main branch, thru the first security door where he pulled a mask over his head and brandished a fake pistol, just as both doors electronically locked at the stroke of 4:00, and he was trapped in two inch bullet proof glass enclosure where the bank tellers quickly called police. http://ascreechandabang.blogspot.com/2012/07/a-screech-and-bang.html

Mark Anthony Given a/k/a The King of Montana said...

PS I don't have an Outline, Story Board, nothing but clean hands, a pure heart, a vivid imagination....and a vocabulary from Heaven.... PSS Study Torah while you can!

Bryan Russell said...

I've always felt that: memory is a fiction, the story we tell ourselves about our own life. And writing a book is a bit like creating new memories, new pieces of your life. You've been there, lived that story, even if you haven't.

Julia Robb said...

I am writing my fourth novel and this is exactly how I feel. I had a detailed outline, I had character studies, I had one-sentence explanations, I had motivation, I had background and I am struggling struggling.

D.G. Hudson said...

Writing is hard because it's a creative endeavor. How much creativity goes into the novel or story may determine the difficulty.

Thanks for the link to the New Yorker article. It's one of my preferred sources.

Melanie Schulz said...

So true. Sometimes it's so hard to decide and when you do, it never feels quite right. It kind of reminds me of painting. In my mind I see a beautiful picture, but what I paint sucks.

Mirka Breen said...

When artists talk about how 'hard' it is to be creative, I feel like suggesting they do something *dull* and arduous, like full time ditch-digging. Much harder.
Maybe the construction at home is getting to me. Writing is a joyride.

Taylor Napolsky said...

^^^
When I think about my day job, and how hard it is, and then compare it to writing, I tend to agree with Mirka.

Anonymous said...

The thing I found interesting is when he says (in the quote you give above) that he reads the positive or negative reviews and feels its not something he did, but more something that just happened....

I kind of "get" what he's saying. Because sometimes I'm trying to make something happen in a story, or wanting it to happen, but it doesn't fit, so it doesn't happen.

I'm curious though (for this author and the ones that comment above me) when they say "I've finished 6 novels now" (like the author in the article said)...
does that mean he has written/revised 6 entire novels OR that he 6 novels published?

Julia Robb said...

Anonymous, does it matter whether a writer has been formally published or not? Are you saying that writing doesn't count unless it's been formally published? So, Indie authors don't count? I have written four books; one was a non-fiction and was published, one I burned, two I finished and was not able to sell and one I have self-published on Amazon. It's titled "Scalp Mountain." It's a pretty good novel. Kirkus likes it, among others. But, say Kirkus didn't like it. Would that make a difference? Each time I write I learn. What about you? And I am leaving my full name here because I always sign what I write. Julia Robb, www.scalpmountain.com

Kristin Laughtin said...

He's captured the essence of writing once you get beyond that magical first story. At least, I felt he'd captured the essence of my feelings on the matter, save for the part about not doing research, because I love doing research.

With that first story, you just let everything flow out of you as it occurs in your head. After that, you start worrying about craft in a new way. And maybe marketability. And a million other things. The more you do it, the more you realize how little you know. Even if you plan your story from start to finish, new questions arise along the way. Don't get me wrong; I love the process of doing it, but I can see why it's enough to make some people go into a blind panic.


I loved the part about memory being a fiction. The narrative in my head sounds a lot like a novel, and I often wonder how my story looks from a different point of view.

Jake Richert said...

I worried that was going to be a bit more depressing than it turned out to be. :)

Anonymous said...

Essentially, if you are published and getting paid to write it's work. Work sucks. But it will not feel like work if you love it. It seems that many journalists, professors, and freelance writers feel pressure to write a novel, but have no clue as to how to entertain or tell a story. They can write but that's where it stops. The voice of a true writer is that of a rebel, a Hunter S Thompson, someone who loves to write and writes constantly like Kerouac because he needs to, not because he must justify his MFA. Professors and those who write "professionally" please stop if it feels like work. If you hate it, stop doing it, we don't want to read your next squeezed out novel that took you two years to write. If it took you two months to write 120k words and you wrote passionately and loved it I want to read it. Consider Marshall Mathers, one of the greatest poets of the late 20th century, he writes because he needs to and he never finished high school. But dusty old professors please keep your ramblings to yourself and/or published by the New Yorker where they belong. Perhaps you will finally get to go on that expensive vacation you've been saving for.

Naja Tau said...

LOL- that's hilarious! It's so true too. I always feel like making any kind of honest artwork is crawling from a car wreck and then looking at score cards.

abc said...

I don't trust writers who say they don't struggle. Unless your name is Cormac McCarthy.

Marion said...

The picture says it all!
Life happens, WIP stalls, traction is lost.
But I suspect that the book is taking this opportunity to re-invent itself. Which is scary.

mira said...

I do think every writers' experience is different.

But I definitely agree that the the deeper you go into your psyche for your writing, the less you really control, the signposts get fuzzier and fuzzier and the more painful it may be. But that can also be the most deeply rewarding.

This also made me wonder if there is a possible difference between writers who write literary and those who write commercial, in terms of the process, and what they access while writing.

I really don't know. I read commercial, which I love, but I have respect for literary, and I do think there can be profound depth to it.

ryandake said...

Nathan! where did you get that pic? it's exactly how i feel :-)

Elisabeth Zguta said...

Great post and comments - it's nice to hear there are others out there feeling the process.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious. It is hard for you, Nathan? You make it look easy. I've read your books and was amazed at how good they are. Kick me, I know, it sounds like a left-handed compliment. But it's not. I didn't expect any middle grade to be that good. But they really are and I'd like to know your thoughts on this.

Nathan Bransford said...

Anon-

Thanks! I definitely find it hard. I'm thankful for the time I have to write but there are days where it fels like a long slog through a dark hazy night. It feels good to finish something but then a new one awaits.

Daniel McNeet said...

Nathan,

Ridgeway's quote is interesting.

Maybe, his answer is: To put a barrier between himself and the feedback he does not like. Maybe, he should not seek it or read it.

He should improve what he wants, and not listen to the naysayers.

Daniel McNeet said...

Nathan,

Ridgeway's quote is interesting.

Maybe, his answer is: To put a barrier between himself and the feedback he does not like. Maybe, he should not seek it or read it.

He should improve what he wants, and not listen to the naysayers.

Julia Robb said...

this is exactly how I feel. It's so freeing to read about another writer's difficulties. Why do we do it? I have no idea.

Daniel McNeet said...

Nathan,

Ridgeway's quote is interesting.

Maybe, his answer is: To put a barrier between himself and the feedback he does not like. Maybe, he should not seek it or read it.

He should improve what he wants, and not listen to the naysayers.

Daniel McNeet said...

Nathan,

Ridgeway's quote is interesting.

Maybe, his answer is: To put a barrier between himself and the feedback he does not like. Maybe, he should not seek it or read it.

He should improve what he wants, and not listen to the naysayers.

Daniel McNeet said...

Nathan,

Ridgeway's quote is interesting.

Maybe, his answer is: To put a barrier between himself and the feedback he does not like. Maybe, he should not seek it or read it.

He should improve what he wants, and not listen to the naysayers.

Anonymous said...

To Julia Robb:

Nope, it doesn't matter to me if his 6 books are published or not.

I'm curious how others refer to their finished novels. I'm not published and no where near that stage, but I don't know how to refer to the projects I finish. I guess I'm still in a weird stage of feeling like a fraud :)

Julia Robb said...

Anonymous, I apologize. I took offense when I shouldn't have done so.

Robena Grant said...

Thanks, Nathan. This was an interesting article. Much to think about.

Wendy said...

That was a great excerpt you pulled from the article.

I periodically have a problem with writers who "guru-ize" themselves. I think we can say what works for us, but a someone mentioned it's different for everyone. And different parts are hard for each individual.

And for those who say it's "easy"... push harder. Probably not one person who was at the Olympics this year would describe getting there as "easy."

Carrie said...

I read this when it was first posted, but have continued to ruminate over the image of scorecards following the car accident. It really, really, really, really, really a million times resonates with me.

I absolutely feel like the book happens to me. I get done with a paragraph, a chapter, the whole darn thing, and I feel the need to gesture haplessly like Woody Allen and just sort of say, "Well, that happened."

At the same time, I take complete ownership of the craft of writing. I know I'm responsible for making the work as good as it can be. But as for what the work ~is~ I'm not exactly sure, other than that I found it, hiding in some murky place, pulled it up into the light and tried to clean it off the best I could.

I have found it difficult, this tension between craft and art (for a complete and total lack of better terms), but this essay gave me some language to describe what is at issue. Thank you for that, Nathan.

Katrina Woznicki said...

Not a fan of Keith Ridgway's belly-button staring. The "how did I stumble into being a successful writer" shtick has been done - to death. I feel sorry for his students (and sounds like he does, too). Anything worth doing is hard and no one has the formula for what works.

Katrina Woznicki said...

Not a fan of Keith Ridgway's belly-button staring. The "how did I stumble into being a successful writer" shtick has been done - to death. I feel sorry for his students (and sounds like he does, too). Anything worth doing is hard and no one has the formula for what works.

Jess Stork said...

I don't think it's a question of liking writing or not. Even if you have a hard job elsewhere, the pressure of getting something right can be tough. I have another job that I love yes, but I've had other jobs that were tough and made the prospect of writing seem wonderful... but that was before editing.

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