Sometimes, I wonder what the hardest part of writing might be. I’m not sure why I do this. Maybe I just like torturing myself. There’s certainly evidence to support that theory. Then again, writing is a huge part of my life. It makes sense that it would infect my thoughts more than a little.
So what is the hardest part? I think it’s different for everybody. For some, it’s just sitting down and doing the work. For others, maybe it’s finding markets for their work (though let’s be honest: if you think there aren’t enough horror markets out there, you have far too narrow an idea of horror). A few find promotion to be a chore and a half. For one of my friends, the hardest part appears to be sitting down and writing without chain-smoking. For another, the hardest part appears to be success. They really appear to hate being successful. Weird.
But what’s the hardest part for me? I’ll admit I have a few problems with promotion. The gears in my brain just have a lot of trouble working that way. Other times, it’s writers’ ticks. My good friend Lee Thomas is usually my first reader, and not a story/book comes along where he doesn’t find some character train or turn of phrase that pops up again and again. In Scavengers, for instance, characters kept getting sick. It seemed the zombies weren’t dangerous becuse they could eat you so much as their presence made you lose your lunch.
If I really had to choose the hardest part of writing for me though, it would have to be improvement. More to the point, it’s very difficult for me to improve my craft as quickly and thoroughly as I’d like. A long time ago, I decided I wanted everything I wrote to be better than what came before it. I made constant improvement as a writer one of my longterm goals. That, at least, I can control to some degree, which isn’t something I can say about finding an agent or landing a book with one of the big New York publishers. So now, every time I write I find myself constantly analyzing. Is the prose tighter? Are the characters deeper? Almost always, they are, but I find I improve by inches. There are no great leaps forward.
And this drive to improve really kicks the self-doubt up a few notches, let me tell you. Recently, I wrote a 10,000 word novelette for an upcoming anthology. When I landed the assignment, I thought it would be easy. He Stepped Through was roughly the same length, took about a week to write, and was one of the best pieces I’ve written. However, when I turned in the story two months and four aborted attempts later, I felt like I’d been in a bar fight. Everything about writing that novelette just exhausted me. Every sentence I had written filled me with emotions ranging from frustration to sadness to disgust. The novelette was good–really good, the editor tells me–but I thought I could do better.
Now, I’m moving on to the rewrite of a novel. Three months ago, I thought the book was in great shape. Lee Thomas eviscerated it, though. It needs a ton of work, and I’m just hoping I can fix it instead of having to scrap it. I’ve had to do that in the past. In fact, both Down and the upcoming Pale Horses were each written at least three times. I’m not even talking editing/rewriting. I mean I finished the book, thought I can do better, and started over completely from page one.
Look, I don’t know if I’ll ever land an agent or get that big book deal. I can’t promise I’ll keep putting out books with the frequency I have been. There’s no telling if I’ll ever be successful enough to have a ‘writing career’ in the long run. All I can control is my writing, my craft, and my desire to constantly improve. So that’s what I’ll be doing. For me, it’s the hardest part, but it’s also the best part.