Wednesday, September 30

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, September 30, 2015 12 comments
The other day, a well-meaning writer on Twitter tweeted, "I've found that if the story isn't easy to write, it's because you're telling the wrong one."

Once in a while, that might be true--some stories do practically write themselves in a blaze of white-hot inspiration. But most writers I know don't have that experience every time, only once a career, or sadly, on and off as they get in the grips of a bipolar mania.

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I think the myth that easy = right is a creatively crippling one that will lead you to make bad decisions about what stories to write.

When I was younger and as naive as they come, writing came very easily. And those easy-to-write stories were pretty terrible, cliche filled, amateurish homages to other books and films. More than anything, my easy stories didn't require me to stretch or grow. I wrote what I knew, and at 12 and 13, I didn't know much.

Having the expectations that the only good ideas are the easy ideas goes against everything we know about creativity and invention. The good ideas are ones like the light bulb, that went through over a hundred prototypes until Edison got one that actually worked well. If every inventor who ever hit a hitch immediately dropped the idea because hard = wrong, we wouldn't have cars or computers or yes, even light bulbs.

There are a number of reasons a story might not be easy to tell that don't make it "the wrong one." The best ideas take more than a momentary zap of inspiration. They take time and energy, prototypes that fail, revision, more prototypes, outside input, encouragement, yet more prototypes, testing, more revision, until the brilliant final product emerges.

Expecting ease means bypassing craft, because craft always involves a learning curve. Learning curves are not easy. They kind of suck. They make you feel like everything you do is wrong, until one day you're over the curve. And then you realize that the hardness and the suckiness were just what you needed. The slog made you stronger and wiser. Your ideas got better because you didn't settle for easy.

Here are some signs you might indeed be telling the wrong story:
~You heard this genre was hot, even though you never read it.
~You're following the usual tropes of a genre for lack of better ideas.
~You're trying to write a genre because you think it will make you look smart, cool, or sexy.
~You love reading a sci fi/fantasy/historical but don't enjoy world building.
~Your characters seem to rebel against every plot decision.
~You've had absolutely no moments of fun and enthusiasm while writing.

Here are some reasons that the right story might be hard to write
~You have to dig deep emotionally, and it's scary.
~You'll have to take a side on a divisive issue, and fear you'll offend people or lose friends.
~You fear being judged for your genre choice.
~This story is unlike anything you've ever written and you fear you'll lose fans.
~The amount of research needed will take years or involve expensive.
~You'll need to talk to experts to get accurate information, and you're super shy.
~Your research will require talking to victims and you worry about the emotional toll on them and on you.
~Writing multiple points of view is something you've never done before.
~You're scared people will think this story is too weird.
~You worry that your take on a hot-button issue will thrust you into the limelight, and that kind of attention is way too scary.

And finally, here are some signs that your "wrong" story is salvageable, and possible remedies

I was having fun for a while, but can't seem to fix plot holes
~Set aside the manuscript for a few weeks or months
~Get beta readers to help you
~Research more aspects of the plot or setting to get better ideas

A secondary character keeps stealing the spotlight
~Reassign the role of protagonist
~Shift the narration style ala The Great Gatsby, so your former protagonist is a narrator
~Write in alternating points of view so both character 1 and 2 can speak

My story feels too much like an homage to my favorite author
~Try a change of milieu, setting it in a radically different time or place. (For more, see THIS post).
~Try reassigning roles in your cast, so the kinds of people who are your mentor author's villains are your heroes.
~Experiment with point of view. If your mentor author writes first person for example, try third
~Experiment with timeline narration. If your mentor author writes linear stories, try multiple time streams, unfolding the story from the past to the future and from the future to the past, meeting at a crisis moment.
~Mix elements of other genres into your story, such as literary, mystery, romance, or comedy

I'm bored with this story
~Research aspects of plot or setting to get more exciting ideas
~Assess who in the cast is dragging down the story's movement and give them a makeover, or the boot
~Ask beta readers to pinpoint where in the story their interest lags, and cut or revamp those scenes
~Revise for pacing, removing as much stage business as possible and tightening up the dialogue. (See Janice Hardy's pacing posts for more ideas)
~Look for opportunities to raise the stakes or add complications

What do you think friends? Do you believe the mythos of easy = right, hard = wrong? Why or why not?


  1. Wow. I've never heard anyone equate "easy" with writing the "right" book. Yes, there are parts of writing that are easy--for me, that's usually when I'm in the midst of creative momentum, like the first two-thirds of a first draft. But then it gets harder. And the editing...polishing and not being satisfied until it's as perfect as I can make it. Hard work, but wonderful. Perhaps it's the sense of joy in the midst of hard work that tells me I'm writing the right novel.

    1. In that writer's sentiment I heard what I call the myth of talent. My daughter at 12 believed she should only invest energy in things that came easily, reasoning that if it didn't come easily, she didn't have talent so sticking with it would be a waste of time. Out of the mouth of a middle schooler, you call it immaturity. Out of the mouth of an adult, the idea is a bit more dangerous, I think. Having that expectation will derail people who have great stories to tell, but think there's some flaw with them when they to have to work really hard to do it well.

      What you said about joy in the midst of the work resonates for me. Those moments when we get lost in the story are pretty magical, but as you say, those are moments, not the entire project.

  2. I'm always suspicious of anything that comes too easily, stories included. Usually if it comes too easily for me I'm more narrating the story than "showing" and using too many cliche's or tired tropes. "Easy" is a comparitive concept itself.

    Those are some good tips, I will try a few in my writing.

    1. Excellent point! Easy can sometimes really mean lazy--taking the short cut, going with the obvious rather than working to be subtle.

  3. I love the characters and the story I'm telling, but right here--at the end!--I'm getting the thing one section of a scene at a time. I love the scenes when they're written, but getting them written is driving me nuts. Right story? Yes. Easy? No. And I just figured out the probable reason why. Back to Ugly Creek :)

    Thanks for the help, Laurel!

    1. Hang in there and fight the good fight! The stories we love deserve effort and digging deep to become the best they can be.

  4. "joy in the midst of hard work"--Well said, Connie Keller!

    1. It surely was. Lack of any joy in the process seems a better indicator than "easy" as to whether you've got the right story for you to be writing.

  5. Definitely hard does not equal wrong. I believe you could parallel this with almost all things we do in life! Healing is hard work, definitely not easy, but worth it when we get around that corner. And when we adventure on to a new direction that is scary, challenging our comfort zone, and cause judgement from those we love, yet in hearts and mind we know is the right direction, we are also not in the 'wrong' for sure!

    1. Well said! I agree that most of the best things (in other words, the opposite of wrong things) require effort, stretching and growth.

  6. Excellent post! To answer your question. I do not believe that right=easy and wrong=hard. And it not only applies to writing, but to any pursuit, to life in general!

    But whether or not a story is right or wrong... I've been wondering this exact thing. I have a short story that I've been trying to write for the past year or so. It is set in an existing world. All of my other short stories I've written came fast and hard and flowed. This one has me stuck. And I think I pinpointed the problem, the story is much bigger than a short story, and I didn't have the time or energy it needed. But I'm hoping with NaNoWriMo coming up this November, I will attempt it once again. we shall see!

    I like how you explored the different options and gave solutions. I shall revisit this article again. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sorry to be so slow to notice your comment! Yes, sometimes the hard comes in writing when a story wants to go a different direction (or even a different genre!) than we initially imagined. Glad you've found a possible solution in exploring its novella or novel length potential.