Thursday, October 10, 2019

Why Does Writing Get Harder?

Kameron Hurley's latest column tackles the question of why writing fiction gets harder instead of easier with experience:

Why Does Writing Get Tougher?

Some reasons she suggests: With greater experience, we can more easily identify the flaws in our works. With this realization, we recognize the need to edit more meticulously. "There was a time when I could burn through a writing session on full steam without pausing to review." Now, though, she explains that aspiring to create novels with more complex structures makes it impossible for her to write that way. "Leveling up" in writing skill also becomes harder the longer we've been doing it for a reason that's obvious once it's pointed out: The first improvements can be made in giant leaps. As one's skills grow, one runs out of large, obvious ways to improve them. Later stages of growth come in smaller increments. The closer one gets to the ever-retreating goal of perfection, the smaller those increments become. So of course the process feels more arduous. "Holding oneself to a high standard makes each subsequent book more difficult." Hurley connects the craft of writing to the ability to recognize patterns. As we get better at that task, we can have confidence that even if the work gets harder, producing a better book is possible, because we've done it before.

Her answers to the question, "Why does writing get harder instead of easier the more we do it?" can be collectively summarized in her concluding statement, "Writing books gets tougher because we become better at it."

My own feeling about this problem roughly corresponds to Hurley's answer, although she doesn't frame it in quite the same way. I think writing has become harder for me than in my teens and early twenties because then I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't notice when my characters behaved unrealistically or the plot fell off the "because line." My story ideas excited me (it probably helped that I didn't realize how not-original most of them were), and words flowed as fast as I could get them onto the page, whether by typing or handwriting. (Now I shudder at the thought of the latter; my fingers and wrist cramp with pain after scrawling a page or two.) Now that I have a computer to minimize the physical labor and make it easy to correct typos and insert changes, my writing should have become even more fluent, shouldn't it? Alas, no.

I do think my writing has improved over the years, not only from practice and passage of time but because the word processor enables me to make revisions, including very minor ones, without no worries about whether they're significant enough to justify retyping a page. The whole process has become slower and more painstaking, though, rather than easier, as Hurley says she's heard from every writer she has discussed this issue with. Like the centipede who's paralyzed when he stops to think about which leg to move first, I now know too much to compose with the "first fine, careless rapture" of my teens. I can't escape noticing my errors and weaknesses or recognizing the problems in plotting and characterization that need to be solved. It's a bit like hearing from my physical therapist that, since I'm doing all right with the current exercises, she plans to add harder ones in the next session. "Leveling up" does make creative work tougher.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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