Why Writing is Hard

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” ~Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” ~Gene Fowler

Pretty much anyone who has ever sat down to write has found it a frustrating experience. The ideas which seemed so clear in our minds come out all wrong. There is a reason for this.

Writing is not Talking

Writing is not the same as talking. It is similar, but not the same. Writing is more precise; it omits word whispers (uhm, err, and awkward pauses), it omits filler words (like, you know, see, and other more colourful words people pepper their speech with).

You would never write (unless, maybe, you’re Shaggy):

Like, man, it was some dark and stormy night, you know.

Instead you would write:

It was a dark and stormy night.

Writing is not Thinking

We don’t think in words. There might be words, phrases that appear in our thoughts, but so do images and emotions and memories.

Writing is Slow

The main reason writing is so difficult is because it is slow. And this slowness makes writing frustrating. It makes getting your ideas on paper a struggle as your ideas race ahead of your written words.

We speak (in English) at a rate of 120 words per minute or faster. Audio books are read at a speed of around 150 words per minute. Newscasters speak at 200 words per minute or faster.

When composing we type around 19 words per minute or write by hand about 31 words per minute.

What you can say in a minute takes at least 6 minutes to type or 4 minutes to write out by hand (longer if you are a fast talker).

What we were able to say so effortlessly, has slowed to a crawl when we try to write it down. We get frustrated.

Even more disheartening, the average person reads around 250 words per minute, so that minute of speech, that 6 minutes of typing can be read in 30 seconds. Six minutes of work reviewed in a few seconds. Is it any wonder writing seems so difficult? Several minutes of work for a few seconds of consumption – it hardly seems fair.

I have no idea how fast we think (to the best of my knowledge no one has tried measuring that). Thinking consists of not just words, but images and emotions and memories which are all worth hundreds, if not thousands, of words.

When you think of Annabella emerging from the house onto the porch in her white dress, it comes with images of the porch, the house, the garden, the sky, the clouds, the trees, the birds singing, the breeze, the smells and, maybe, in your mind is the word “radiant” to describe her. All of that comes to you in a fraction of a second or maybe a few seconds.

To describe all that, to convey the sights and sounds and smells and emotions to the reader might take several hundred words. That image, which came in a flash of inspiration to you, now takes 30 minutes or longer to write down.

Consider another scene where you see the epic sword battle between Count Voltorb and Lord Raichu. You see the climax where Lord Raichu loses his sword and Count Voltorb is coming in for the kill, but in a daring move Lord Raichu dives, rolls, and grabs his sword with a fluid motion and kicks at Count Voltorb knocking him off balance. How long many words to share this battle scene with someone so they feel that they are there? A lot more than the 19 words you will type, or 31 you will write, in a minute.

Writing is hard because we are frustrated by how slow it is to put our ideas to paper.

Information on Words Per Minute was taken from the Wikipedia article of the same name on 31-May-2011 (the information may have changed since I referenced it).

Needless to say, individual results may vary – you may be a faster writer (or slower), you may be a faster talker (or slower), you may be a faster reader (or slower).

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