Sunday, 27 March 2011

DOES IT GET EASIER?

This was a question I was asked at the end of my three-hour What's Wrong With Your Manuscript? workshop this week in Edinburgh. I'm afraid my face said it all.

No, to be honest, I don't think "it" does get easier, if by "it" we mean writing a book that's good enough for readers to buy, a book we can be truly proud of. Some aspects get easier and some don't. We get better at it, I hope, and better at recognising the stages and the processes, better at seeing what's wrong with what we're doing. But putting it right is rarely easy and nor is writing it.

I find it hard, this business, and the fact that I can talk for hours about how to do it doesn't make it any less hard. If it was mechanical - and perhaps it is for some people, with some types of book - maybe it would become easier. But it isn't and so it doesn't. Each novel is crafted from a piece of stone that is no softer than the previous one. Each chisel is no sharper. There are no shortcuts to creation.

People who dismiss our novels as easy to write, or make some crass comments about them in reviews, have no idea how hard we try and how difficult good books are to write and how pleasing everyone is neither possible nor what we aim for. Maybe we make writing look easy. Maybe that's why so many people try it and why so many people say they'll write a novel "when I have time".

So, no, to my lovely, hard-working workshoppers this week: I'm sorry. I can't promise you that it gets easier. I can promise you, however, that the pleasures don't dim. And maybe that's the point: the pleasure is in achieving something difficult. The harder the climb, the further you can see and the greater the exhilaration.

20 comments:

Pk Hrezo said...

A very encouraging post. I think it helps most that others struggle just as we do. And you're so right. That's why the success will taste so sweet after all the hard work it takes to get there. Making it look easy is the facade. It takes so so much work to make it read easy and effortless. It's truly amazing.

Lee Thompson said...

Great post! I agree. I wrote six novels before my first one sold a couple of months ago. All of them were difficult even though some things seemed easier with each book because they flowed better from practice. It's exhilarating and difficult. But well worth the time when someone says it kept them up all night or they talk about scenes that once only existed in your head.

Whirlochre said...

Novels are, by definition, new.

The problem with sage wisdom is that it so often relates only to the last project we did — the one we've just done and dusted.

To be honest, if this writing lark were at all formulaic I wouldn't be so struck. I like the fact that it really is like climbing a mountain.

If you're going to discriminate between sorts of stuff in order to create something monumental, thin air is the only medium.

catdownunder said...

I am quite certain it does not get easier - for all my nonsense about the arrangement of cat hairs. Someone actually suggested to me this afternoon that I find "writing things easy - you know like you do your blog everyday". Easy? No, definitely not. Satisfying when I finally have managed to do something? No, not even that. It could always be better. There is always another little bit of hill to climb - maybe the view gets better?

Charmaine Clancy said...

Reminds me when new mums ask that question, and you so want to say yes. :-)

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

I agree with the comments made here. To make the reading process feel effortless to the reader, freeing him to concentrate on the complexities of the plot and relationships, is the highest test of the writer's skill. You don't want the reader to struggle with the mechanics of the language, you want them to engage with the world you have created on a higher level, exercising emotion and understanding. It is a hugely difficult thing for the writer to achieve, and the harsh or crass critics discount the level of skill required to pull it off.

Stroppy Author said...

All true, Nicola (and commenters); and yet.... There is a way in which it gets easier in that your frame of mind changes. When you have done it once, or twice, or whatever, you know you CAN do it. Not that it guarantees you can do it again, but you know you have it in you and it becomes a matter of HOW not IF. Your confidence grows and something shifts.

There is also the issue that if you are working with an editor you know, they have confidence in you and if you send in something that is not perfect, you're not on the slush pile and - as long as it's nearly there - they will work with you on it.

Jim Murdoch said...

The danger is assuming there is such a generic thing as ‘a novel’ and that if you’ve written one novel you’re perfectly capable of writing a dozen. Some people only ever write the one novel. I fully expected to be one of them. I was a poet. What was I doing thinking I could write a novel? Now, however, some fifteen years later I’ve just finished my fifth and no two were even remotely the same experience. The only thing that got easier was coping with the self-doubt and fear as I struggled to write each subsequent one. I knew that I’d been there before, wondering what the hell I was doing thinking I could write another novel, wishing I’d never started and yet unable to just put the thing aside and forget about it. I don’t much care for talking about novels as babies but if novel-writing has one thing in common with childbirth it’s that we forget about the pain quite quickly afterwards. Which is why, I guess, sooner rather than later I’ll find myself writing my sixth.

Ebony McKenna. said...

You came perilously close to singing that Miley Cyrus song, didn't you?

But you're right. For me writing is getting harder because used to be blissfully ignorant. I have a much better idea of what I'm doing, but I'm also putting more pressure on myself to do more.

However, there is also more joy. Agents who say lovely things, editors too, reader feedback, lovely reviews etc. I keep wanting to impress all these people so I push myself as hard as I can.

It doesn't get easier, but it is more satisfying.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Ah, making it look easy is the most difficult bit. Those who manage it, are the most skilled, arguably. And nope, agreed, the whole business doesn't get easier. And in a way, would you want it to?

Colette McCormick said...

As someone who is trying to fit in rejigging a book between a full time job, family and other writing commitments I know its not easy but the trouble is that I believe in my book and I will keep at it until I find someone who believes in it as much as I do.

dirtywhitecandy said...

You said it all, Nicola. I just had an almighty vent on my blog about how hard it was to get my latest novel right, and you'd think I'd know how by now. Writing a good novel is not effortless. It always hurts.

rodgriff said...

It was nice to see you at York, and yes you're right, it does not get easier. last year the one to one folk at York told me stuff to do to make my book better. This year they were happy with the the writing but said, no one can sell medical thrillers, so write something else.
I wondered about writing this comment, because I don't want it to sound negative, because it will be easier to write another one, to some extent because I have a better idea of what I'm aiming at - something where they at least reject the genre rather than the writing.

Shauna said...

I do agree that some aspects of writing a novel get easier, or at least I learn from past mistakes and can see things I do wrong. But this learning process continues. I cringe when I look at earlier work and see the telling, or flat characters. I wonder what I'll see in my current writing that needs improving.

Yes writing is like climbing that hill, always thinking the summit is the next rise, only to find there is still further to climb. Yet we keep climbing because we so want to see the view.

David Griffin said...

Spot on; well put, I say, Nicola. :-)

IanBontems said...

Thanks for that. Honesty mightn't be easy to hear, but it's what's needed. Your talk at York on Sunday was on the money.

My second novel is proving a far tougher nut to crack than the last one, but forewarned is forearmed.

Great post and comments

Donna Weaver said...

Thanks for your frankness. It makes sense. I'm sure it doesn't get easier for any truly creative process.

Debi said...

Lovely to meet you in Real Life, Nicola. Though there's never enough time ...

I might not agree with you about year-round boot-wearing, but I certainly echo your sentiments in this post.

K. Jackson said...

Haha to ebony about the Miley Cyrus comment.

No pain, no gain came to mind when I read this post. It is, like you said, a satisfying pain in the end. :-)

Anonymous said...

In my engineering job, I once complained to a coworker about how hard my task was. He responded with the best compliment: "That's why they gave it to you."

He was right. If the task were easy, they would have outsourced it to some third-worlder for a fraction of my salary. If getting a novel published were easy, the world would be flooded with more crap than it already is, and none of you would have any hope of being noticed.