I once met a newly-retired cereal executive who asked me what I did for a living. I said I was a writer. He said, hey, what a coincidence, he was thinking of becoming a writer.
“Hey, what a coincidence,” I didn’t say, “I was thinking of becoming a cereal executive.”
I’m sure he didn’t mean his comment as an insult to my profession, but I took it as one, just as I take other similar comments from non-writers—for instance, “I’ve got a great idea for a novel, but I just need the time to write it.” Well, yes you do. That, and talent.
If I sound defensive, I guess it’s because I am. I mean, they’re right, or at least more right than I’d like to admit. They figure that they’ve spoken words all their lives, and writing is putting words down on a page, so how hard can it be? Besides: They’ve actually written! They’ve written term papers or annual reports or grant proposals. They’ve put words down on pages in such a way as to accurately communicate their intentions. For all I know, the former cereal executive could have written—or even did go on to write—a perfectly respectable book.
But they’re also wrong, these non-writers who think that writing is easy. If you’re reading this blog, I probably don’t have to tell you, but just to be clear: Writing is hard. Actually, please allow me to edit myself, because edit themselves is what writers do remorselessly: Writing well is hard. Really hard. It takes years and years of practice, exhausting dedication, and, yes, talent. And even then, even extraordinarily talented writers will look at their writing and ask themselves: Who wrote this crap?
But the hardest part of writing—the part that makes writers (or me, anyway) defensive around non-writers who don’t appreciate how hard writing well is—is making it look easy. Revising and revising and revising until it looks effortless. Revising until someone who doesn’t know any better might read what you’ve written and say, “Hey, I could do that!”
Hey, no you couldn’t! But next time, I’ll try to take it as a compliment to my profession.