Brendan Sudol
March 2013

Writing is hard

The first draft of anything is shit.

Ernest Hemingway

Easy reading is damn hard writing.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Mark Twain

I guess I’m not alone in thinking this, but good writing is hard. For me, starting is always the toughest part. Those first written words never seem as clear and crisp as they were a moment ago in my good ol’ brain box. Too much passive voice. Overly wordy. Overly adverby.

The problem is, I think I try too hard to make every sentence perfect on the first pass. It’s like I’m embarrassed to leave an awkward phrasing or trailing preposition on the screen for more than a minute. I run to the thesaurus at the first sign of trouble. And after beating word choices and sentence structures to death and thinking, at last, that it’s passable, I’m exhausted and what do I have to show for it – one whole sentence. Congratuations me, 4 more until my very own paragraph. :/

But I know what good writing sounds like and it’s beautiful and motivating. That’s why I love The Economist – the magazine’s prose is as good as its content. The proof is that I read things I normally have no interest in, like the Obits, because it’s a joy to see how wonderful the written word can be crafted. My dad is also an exceptional writer. I swear he could go toe to toe with Sam Seaborn from The West Wing any day.

So I’m trying to be better. I’ve come to terms with the fact that first drafts suck. I remind myself that literary heavyweights like Hawthorne and Hemingway struggled too, and that writing is really in the re-writing. You just have to get stuff down on the page, and after that initial babblethon, then you start chiseling the stone. And it slowly starts to take shape. And after a few more rounds of editing, it actually starts to look good. But to get to that point, you have to get started.