The Write Geek: Writing Is Not Hard But Is Hard Work

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Image: Karen Walsh
Image: Karen Walsh

“Writing is hard.”

“I’m bad at writing.”

“I can’t write.”

“I don’t know how to write.”

Every three months, for the last 12 years, I have faced this wall. This wall of self-loathing, self-doubt, and self-defeatism.

Today, I am here to tell you that writing is not hard. No one is bad at writing. No one cannot write.

The problem is that no one has taught you how to write.

Here is the first writing lesson. Words matter. How we use words matters. The words “is” and “am” are various forms (also known in grammar as conjugations) of the verb “to be,” or a state of being. When the words “hard” and “bad” are considered a state of being, those describing words (also known in grammar as adjectives) create a sense of limitation. That is the first lesson that I plan to change with this series.

Writing is hard.
Writing is hard work.

What is the difference between the first sentence and the second sentence? The difference is what comes after the “to be,” or the state of being. Let’s look at these sentences and what they do in terms of meaning and grammar..

When we use the word “is,” it acts like an equal sign in a math equation. Think about how you speak the following: 1+1=2. There are several ways to speak that. One plus one equals two. One and one is two. One plus one are two. Notice, that when you add things together, you create a math sentence leading to a state of being by using the words “is” and “are.” Therefore, if we look at the sentences above and make them math equations, we get the following:

Writing = hard
Writing = hard work

Now, let’s look at this a little more. In the first sentence, we are equating writing to being totally hard all the time. It equals “hard.” Because we think of math as something that has an absolute answer, the use of this sentence creates a sense of absolute in how writing is just always going to be hard.

The second sentence, though, changes this focus. Let’s take a quick look at why. If we take that apart, let’s think about what the nouns are in that sentence. In that sentence, really what we’re doing is saying:

Writing = Work

The work is described as hard, not the writing.

Fair enough. Then again, running a marathon is hard work, but a lot of people can do it.

Anyone can be proficient at writing with hard work, just like anyone can make it to the finish line of a marathon with hard work. Not everyone who runs a marathon has the best time, but a lot of people still train for them anyway. The same can be said of writing.

When we say it’s “hard work,” though, what do we mean? Well, the problem there is that “hard” is a vague word that can mean a bunch of different things to a bunch of different people. What are some of those meanings?

Physical labor
Effort
Thinking
Time-consuming
Unpleasant

Yup, writing is work that can be described as all of those things to different people. For people with physical or learning disabilities, the physical labor and the time-consuming and the unpleasant qualities are off-putting. For a lot of my generation, these disabilities couldn’t be overcome. Many people equate the physicality of writing (handwriting or typing for example) to the act of the writing process and a written product. Today, however, we have many adaptive technologies that remove the physical burden of writing allowing people to focus on the writing process of communication. However, I’m also going to say that before you jump on my case, we are going to talk about various ways to overcome them in a future post. I promise not to leave anyone hanging out in the wind.

Writing is effort. Writing is thinking. Writing is time-consuming. Writing is (can be) unpleasant. Writing is physical labor. All of these are what writing is.

Writing is not hard.

This is the shift that needs to take place in our world. When we see bespectacled men in tweedy little suits yelling that writing is hard, we reinforce the idea that people are born into writing. The reality is that writing is a process. Writing is no different than the scientific process. There is a hypothesis. There are materials. There is data and evidence. There is logic.

Writing is not hard. Writing is hard work.