Why Is It So Difficult To Write Well?

bad writing featured imageI’m nearly halfway through the backstory material for my current WIP.  I’m writing a series of books tentatively titled The Five Rims Series and try as I might, I’m going to create a Tolkienesque place, a (most likely) vain attempt to give my setting a richness that will hopefully translate to a sweeping epic.  I’m just going to ignore what Hemingway said about bad writers, I guess.

But (no offense to Hemingway) this is really hard work.

Really hard.

I’m not only creating six solar systems, but I’m also creating the flora and fauna for those habitable planets in those systems as well as alien races, culture, customs, a brief history of each habitable planet and a backstory for how the terrans became their conquerors and eventually were eradicated to near extinction.  The first book will be titled The Last Terran.

It is daunting, I know, but I really want this new series to be incredible, layered with much backstory and history.  I think I’m on my way to getting through it, if I can find the time and energy to slog through it at the end of the day.  Of course this is also after teaching all day and running an alternative education program.

But what if you don’t have a day job?  Could you still find the time to create great writing?  I think it’s possible, because you should see all the material I’ve created so far (all 9500 words of it).  I’m getting pretty excited about it, and already beginning to bug random strangers about it.  Take that, Hemingway.  Random strangers have been actually very interested with my pitch.

I finished reading Wolves and Men, a novel written by a former student, and what I noticed about Natasha Wittman’s writing is that she has an affinity for making her prose compact with wonderful description, little use of unnecessary adverbs and edge-of-your-seat storytelling.  This is not easily done, and should be applauded.  I suppose Natasha wrote an outline for her novel, because without one the pacing would be a nightmare.

Enough babble.  Here are my observations about why it is so difficult to write well:

  1. Writing Well Requires Planning – I don’t care if you write outlines like me or you brainstorm out a plot using a bubble diagram or with Mindnode, writing a novel without a general plan in mind is like running into battle in your birthday suit. If you write from your gut without much of a plan you will often include a ton of writing that is wasted words in that they will not further the plot.  You could also produce a simple two-dimensional novel that is not layered with that stuff that makes great writing, namely subtext.  Very few writers are capable of this without planning, but even the greatest novelists plan ahead.
  2. Writing Well Requires Education – I’ve said this a million times, but some of the best writers are trained writers.  Writing well requires that the writer take a few writing classes.  There are several types of writing, and academic writing often does not translate well to fiction writing or to poetry.  It’s like playing Dungeons and Dragons with the rules for Axis and Allies (Yeah, I’m a game geek).  Go take some annex classes or audit some courses or just go to college.  You will be that much more prepared to write well if you have the skills and building blocks to do so.
  3. Writing Well Requires Experience – I have taught high school writers for a long time.  Each one of them thinks that they have experienced enough about the world to write on a more mature level, but most of them (I would say about 90%) haven’t even traveled outside of their own town.  Travel around, see the world, share new experiences, think about big things…deeper things.  This takes time and effort, and again is one of those things that most writers who have never been that adventurous lack.  It also makes their writing uninteresting and bland.
  4. Writing Well Requires Much Reading – If you want to write well, then you must read books that are above the level of something like Twilight or The Hunger Games.  These books are not on a level of something like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation or Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.  I read books now not necessarily because the plot is interesting, but because the writing style is interesting.  I love to examine how Philip K. Dick can tell a story with minimalist detail, allowing the reader to imagine the details while sprinkling in his own quirky brand of humor.  He also is able to entertain whilst ramming home the most powerful and thought provoking philosophical and spiritual messages.  Good writing comes from reading good writing.  Read and learn.

Have you ever thought about this issue yourself?  I’m sure you have.  Respond in the comment section below with your thoughts on why it is so difficult to write well.  I’m sure we can all learn from each other, and that is what makes great writing as well.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

8 thoughts on “Why Is It So Difficult To Write Well?

  1. I experience difficulty composing my essay. The contemplations are in my mind yet don’t know how to put it on paper. I read my associates work it’s astonishing. I am inadequate with regards to vocabulary and sentence stream. In what capacity would I be able to enhance in this circumstance?

      1. Yes Roger! Outlining is very important at first hand. Do you have Twitter so i can follow you?

  2. Good writing is intangible. You know it when you see it and you know it when you don’t. I do think a big component of professional-grade writing is cutting unnecessary words. Sometimes a decent story can become a good one with smart editing.

    Regarding point number one about planning: I agree that you have to have a vision going in and know the type of story you want to tell, but sweeping fantasy and science fiction may require more planning than other genres because of the world-building aspects. Mysteries too, since the puzzle pieces must fit. In my experience, though, outlining has led me to turn out predictable, bland material, and blank-paging it has allowed me to be far more creative.I feel like I have the scope as a writer to know when an event does not advance the story or reveal and grow a character, so I hope that quality is enough of a guide. We’ll see when I’m done with my WiP if I have the knack I think I have for that.

    Anyway, your project sounds ambitious and exciting. I hope it turns into the grand epic you envision.

    1. I can wholeheartedly agree on the bland part from outlining.. i have no idea why, but my first outlining ever was done on my Bootcamp project and when i started editing i found it a very bland straightforward rpgadventure. I bascially wound up rewriting/rethinking 60%.

      This might be inexperience though as it’s my first experience with writing from an outline and creating a product for someone else to use instead of just writing for myself.

      Five Rims sounds like a big project, actually alot like what i often have aspired to as a GM when creating my own worlds for RPG. Interresting stuff 🙂

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