Writing is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that writing is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then writing is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that writing is difficult no longer matters.
The above is the introduction to one of the most famous self help books written at a time before self help was a household word. The Road Less Traveled: A new psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth by M. Scott Peck M.D. has sat on my bookshelf for 10 years, the pages somewhat brown with age. In my early twenties I discovered I was lost spiritually, so I bought it. It was the introduction that attracted me. But I didn’t buy it as a writer who understands the pain of writing. I bought it as a soul who’s experienced the pain of living. The introduction actually begins with the words ‘life is difficult.’ In fact, the word ‘life’ exists in each line where I’ve substituted the word writing. I use the words interchangeably here because both are maxims I live by.
William Zinsser wrote a book in 1976, On Writing Well, that I recommend every serious nonfiction writer own. He opens Chapter One with an anecdote recalling when he, a writer, and a surgeon, also a writer, were invited to speak on a panel about writing as a vocation. Each author contradicted the other: the surgeon claimed that writing reduces his tensions and the words just flowed for him, while Zinsser admitted that “writing wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun. It was hard and lonely, and the words seldom just flowed.”
At the end of the panel, they arrived at a revelation. “Dr. Brock told me he was enormously interested in my answers — it had never occurred to him that writing could be hard. I told him I was just as interested in his answers — it had never occurred to me that writing could be easy. (Maybe I should take up surgery on the side.)”
Writing well takes courage. It’s walking down an unpaved road with bare feet. Accepting that truth doesn’t make the process easier, but it does make one look forward to the committment. As with many professions, writers don’t committ to their craft because it’s easy; they take pleasure in the complexity of it and question those who underestimate the skill involved.
The thing I enjoy most about writing is the end of it. When the revised can no longer be revised, I am satisfied. Revision pleases me too, but there is nothing more fulfilling within the act of writing than arriving at the proverbial stop sign. Knowing you’ve said it the best way it can be said. Reaching the conclusion is part of why we do it. The hard part is deciding when to end.