The Reason That Writing Is Hard Contains A Deeper Life Lesson, So Listen Up

Writing is a brutish, torturous exercise. Even the world’s greatest authors lamented how much it sucks to sit down and commit ideas to paper.

“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”
Kurt Vonnegut

That’s right; a mind who defined a literary generation felt anything but competent as he did it.

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
George Orwell

George Freaking Orwell didn’t whistle while he worked.

“A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Thomas Mann

I have 47 browser tabs open right now and will keep hurling these at you until you’re convinced.

"Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing."
Norman Mailer

“I write the way women have babies. You don't know it's going to be like that. If you did, there's no way you would go through with it.”
Toni Morrison

That’s two childbearing analogies. Case closed; writing is hard. But why?

There are tons of things that make writing hard, but here's one that's not talked about often: writing forces the author to face their own inadequacies in a way that’s nearly impossible elsewhere in life.

When you sit down to write, one thing is immediately apparent: anything that sucks is completely your fault.

All of the lazy assumptions, the half-truths, the naivety, the reliance on cliche, the uninspiring and unoriginal ideas, the failure to persist and land on real insight, to miss the bigger point, using language because it’s convenient rather than precise, all of it, every failure to produce something worth reading, is the writer’s to own. You can blame your mom if you want, but it’s not going to put the next word on the page.

This stands in contrast with much of the rest of life, where execution happens against a myriad of factors outside of ourselves; the politics at this place make it impossible to get stuff done, some idiot got into a fender bender and made me late, the wifi at the airport Arby’s was crappy so I couldn’t finish that research, the sandwich I ate at said Arby’s has made me violently ill and I may only have moments to live, and so on. Those are all reasonably clever excuses.

But there’s a brutal clarity in the world of the writer; if what she writes sucks and it's only her, the pen, and the paper, it’s pretty obvious who's at fault.

The fact that most situations aren't as simple as the writer's doesn’t necessarily make what’s true in one world any less true in the other. Maybe we do have more agency than we think, but we’re blind to it because whenever our identity as competent and capable people is threatened, we turn on Blame Mode™ and scan the rich and complex situations around us for any plausible target other than ourselves to attribute failure. This is like shooting fish in a barrel most of the time, sparing us the discomfort of looking inwards that a simpler set of circumstances would have forced upon us.

So, yeah, writing is hard because you have to accept responsibility for your actions, which says a lot more about human nature than it does about writing.