The Lie of Easy Writing

Writing is a challenge–but one that is worthwhile.

This quote, incorrectly attributed to Ernest Hemingway, is a pretty one. It evokes a few ideas — the brooding writer who works out deep feelings through words, or the concept that anybody can write if they just pour their heart onto the page, without editing, without hesitation or over-thinking.

I don’t necessarily disagree with either of these. I have been the brooding writer at times and created work I’m quite proud of in dark moments. I also genuinely believe anyone can — and should — try their hand at writing. It’s a worthwhile practice that can help contextualize feelings, improve brain functioning, and alleviate loneliness.

However, a look into actual comments by Hemingway on writing show a different perspective. Consider:

“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it.”

Hemingway had a simple, crisp style of writing. He got to the point quickly and eloquently without unnecessary exposition or pretension. Anyone who has tried writing will know that such a straightforward approach is much more difficult than it appears. To do this takes great control and mechanical skill — the ability to discern what words are vital to convey the point, and which ones to avoid.

There is nothing to the act of writing. I see a lot of memes on the web joking about writers who don’t write, and I get it. I’ve spent months away from projects before. But it takes very little to sit down and bleed words onto a page. Any words. Word salad, even. The more you write them, the faster they’ll begin to take shape and become something that tells a story in a unique voice that is yours alone.

There is no excuse not to write.

To write “well” is the next step. You must learn the mechanical rules so that you can break them in a way that makes sense. You must understand plot and character and scenery and how they all intersect to build a story. You must nurture your writing, “kill your darlings”, and sometimes re-write entire sections that aren’t effective.

It is a difficult, overwhelming process that requires hours of reading, typing (or scribbling), erasing and deleting. Not everything will be good — even published works have the occasional weak sentence or misplaced word. But, while it may not become easier, writing does begin to feel more natural and organic. As you find your voice, adopt styles you do like and ditch rules you don’t, writing does feel a bit like bleeding.

The words become an extension of your thoughts, an expression of how you personally experience the world. It is not easy, it takes years of practice. But as Hemingway himself said — “don’t get discouraged.”

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