It Gets Harder

© Jami Garrison |

© Jami Garrison |

I love the positive affirmation of the whole It Gets Better campaign. I would have loved to have heard that when I was in high school. High School Merry was pretty miserable and could have used someone assuring her that it gets better. In that case, it did. MUCH better. My life now is a thousand times happier than it was back then.

Yes, life gets better.

Writing, however, gets harder.

A lot of people out there have discussed this concept. When you first pick up a pen and start writing down the stories that have been swirling in your brain, everything flows like I river. Writing is just so cool! The stories are happy and spill out willingly. No, they may not be very good. If you’re like me, you wrote about a hundred beginnings that never materialized into endings, or even middles. But writing was still fun and awesome and empowering.

Then came publication. That first book or two for me were still mega fun. Look at me! I’m a writer! I would get carried away on the wave of inspiration and the pride in seeing my work for sale with actual people I didn’t know buying it! And the reviews started coming in…. Some were great, some were not…. I got another book out there…. And—oh, gosh—I have a series that I’m writing and I don’t feel that same super thrill of inspiration, but I made a promise to the reader that the series would be finished. Obligation set in.

Now, I’m not saying that I begrudge finishing all the books in a series I plan. Not at all! I’m not saying that I don’t like writing anymore. I love it! I’m not even saying that the process of writing a novel itself has gotten harder.

… Or am I?

Fun or (gasp!) work?

Fun or (gasp!) work?

I noticed that something had changed in the way I write by about my fourth book. That flush of optimistic youth, if you will, was gone, replaced by a grown-up sense of responsibility and career and purpose. In my darker moments I would joke with people that “I remember a time when writing was fun”. Some days it’s really not fun at all. I call those days “drafting”. But I still love it.

I think the difference now is that I know better. I don’t run off of inspiration and novelty alone anymore. As I’ve worked with professional editors and read craft books and written more and more, I’ve begun to concentrate on the technicalities and craft of writing. I am more conscious of what I’m writing at an earlier stage of the game than I ever have been. I think about what I’m writing as I write it. And—*gasp*—I plot now!

Writing with your eyes open is harder than just writing with your heart. One of my old writing teachers used to say that everyone has a writer and an editor in them, and the key to good writing is finding the right balance between the two. I believe that when you first start to write you let the writer in you run free. When you get serious about writing and have a few books under your belt and start to look at it as a career, the editor gets bigger.

The thing is, while drafting has become harder for me, revising has become, if not easier, at least more satisfying. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have told you the opposite, but these days I kind of dread writing those first drafts but absolutely love working on revisions. First drafts are when you plop everything down on the table. Revisions are when you form it into masterpieces.

The problem with that is that the process of plopping becomes harder when your editor is already thinking about revising. It’s a real challenge to let go and write badly when you know you have the capability to write better. It’s hard to watch half-baked ideas and underdeveloped characters come out of your fingers as you type those first words. When you know what you’re capable of, the fear of backsliding into ick is really painful. I can see how there are writers out there who have penned one great book then given up.

The key is not to give up. The key is to take a deep breath and accept that the process of writing has changed. You’re playing a different game now. You’re not a bright-eyed and eager novice anymore. You’re in for the long-haul. This is when it’s serious.

But it’s still fun. There are a lot of super hard things in life that are very hard to do. Besides writing, relationships come to mind. It all takes a lot of effort and even more angst, but when you see the finished product, when you watch yourself getting better and better with each book, you know that all the work and all the stress is worth it!

Writer friends out there, have you experienced this? Has writing gotten harder or easier for you?


3 thoughts on “It Gets Harder

  1. Your post absolutely echoes my experience (and i only have 1 book out). I still love writing, but it does feel much more like work once considerations of publishing come into it!

  2. Oh boy, wait til being able to pay your bills or not correlates directly with how much you’re able to write. Expectations from readers and fans is one thing, but when you support yourself solely by writing, it can get even more challenging. Of course, like you, it doesn’t make me love it any less. I always loved to write, even if I feel balky about it sometimes when I sit down to work. The upside is that you get kind of a thrilling separation between the daily grind of bill-paying writing and the soul-fulfilling writing – those on-spec essays that pay peanuts, or blog posts.Maybe someday I can write only what I feel like writing, every day. But for now it’s good enough just to write and call that work.

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