Writing is a challenge. Lots of things are challenges. Life itself is a challenge.
I just received the latest copy of the alumni magazine from the college I attended. (Never mind how long ago.) It occurred to me as I looked it over that college was, in a word, easy. Not easy in the sense that the courses were easy (I had some difficulty with history and German and English grammar), but easy in the sense that college life was easy. How is that, you wonder? Someone else paid the bill. All you had to do was go to class, eat, drink, party if you wished, and study. Occasionally you had to sweat the exam, but you had the advantage that you knew about it in the first place and you knew when it would take place and all you had to do was study. Everything was laid out before you. Your life in college was regimented. You are there for one purpose, to study and you always knew what you had to do, and it was a simple matter of just doing it.
Then, graduation rears its ugly head.
Life itself is much more of a challenge. No one is around to tell you what to do and where to go. You face exams almost every day, you don’t know when or where they will be, and you can’t prepare for them. How do you prepare for a job interview if you’ve never had to go through one before? What do you say? Where do you go? And no one around to give you the answers. How do you know what to study without a list of courses or an instructor to tell you what pages to read in the textbook?
Writing is a lot like that. I’ve read I-don’t-know-how-many articles and books on writing (see my section titled “Recommended Readings” for some of the books). I’ve been to writing conferences and workshops and retreats where my work has been critiqued and dissected until it’s unrecognizable. That’s the easy part. It’s relatively easy to absorb all sorts of instructions and comments and observations about your work and about writing in general, but when you get home, the hard part is putting it all together into a coherent whole.
Like graduating from college (even high school is similar), putting together a novel is tricky. “Show, don’t tell,” “dialogue should advance the plot,” “the protagonist must change in some material way,” all these are well-known clichés of the writing profession, and they’re important to study and understand, and there are a zillion more. I’m not trying to minimize them, not at all. They’re easy to say, easy to study, and they trip lightly on the mind, but they’re damn frustrating to put into place in a novel. It takes time, precious, steady, everlasting time, and after over ten years of writing, deleting, studying, attending meetings, groups and seminars, I’ve only just now begun to feel as though I have this process mastered.
I like what I’ve written. When I read through the latest revisions, I’m impressed with some of the narrative. If that sounds like tooting my own horn or even shameless self-promotion, well make the most of it. I believe you have to like what you wrote, or what’s the reason for writing it in the first place? It isn’t easy to get to that point, but the self-satisfaction beats anything else.