Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing: #9… Writing is Hard

“This myth comes in many forms and has many faces, but let me put it as plainly as I can to start.

Myth: To be Good, Fiction Writing Must Be Hard. (And it can’t be fun.)

Total hogwash, of course, yet it is stunning how many new fiction writers believe this, and how readers, when they bother to think about it, believe the myth as well. And, of course, almost everyone who teaches creative writing in a university program believes this as well, and teaches the myth.

Where does this myth come from?

Answer: A thousand places, actually. But I think the best place to look first is at fiction writers themselves.

Fiction writers are people who sit alone in a room and make up stuff. By its very nature, one of the easiest tasks ever given to a human being. But, alas, fiction writers are people who make stuff up, and thus, making stuff up doesn’t stop when our fingers leave the keys. We use words like ‘struggle’ and ‘fought’ in sentences describing the creation of a story. ‘I had to really struggle with that story.’ Or ‘I fought that story into existence.’

Good, active writing. Who cares if the reality was you sat fairly still, in a comfortable chair, in a warm room, at a computer, and just made stuff up.

Don’t forget that we fiction writers, by our nature, are drama queens, to say the least. Because our task is so easy and so much fun, we have to make it seem harder to those around us, and to ourselves, otherwise we get no credit for all the ‘hard work’ we do every day.

Fiction writers play up this myth of ‘hard work’ so much, we actually start believing it ourselves at times. If nothing else, fiction writers are the masters of self-delusion.

A second place to look for why this myth exists is the culture of publishing.

One manuscript page is about 250 words. This post is now a distance past that number of words right here. So if I write one page, 250 words, per day, I would be done writing in about 10-15 minutes. Sometimes quicker, sometimes longer. If I did that 10-15 minutes every day for one year, I would complete a 91,000 word novel, about a normal length paperback book.

Oh, yeah, that’s hard work, sitting silently for 15 minutes per day and moving my fingers. And the current culture would consider me a prolific writer if I did that every year for ten years. Heaven forbid I actually write 30 minutes per day and produce two books a year.

We fiction writers have to really hide this math, and we have to really do a lot of drama to keep the world believing that working fifteen minutes a day typing is hard work. Stunning how good of a job we have done in this scam, isn’t it? As I said, we are masters of delusion, self-delusion, and just flat making stuff up.

Of course, there is always the ‘art’ argument that comes flying in. Fiction writers who want to hold onto the myth that writing is hard work talk a great deal about the ‘art’ and the ‘craft’ of what they do, especially out in public. And of course, see my rewriting chapters about that part of the myth. But the truth is, when we are really creating art, we are doing it from the back of our brains, typing fast, buried in the story.

Oh, wow, does this chapter make fiction writers angry at me. I pull out all their excuses and pull back the curtain. Sorry.”

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