“When does it start to get easier?” the newbie author asks me.
“Never. It will always be hard,” I say.
I feel like the Harsh Mistress of Author Truths in that moment. But it’s better to slay that expectation in the crib than let it grow into a monster that will cripple that new author.
Example: I’ve written a lot of books. You would think I would be better at this by now, right? And from an objective viewpoint of “is your craft better on the tenth book than the first?” I would have to say yes (man, I hope so). But that doesn’t make it easier.
My book First Daughter was a good example. My editor rightly pointed out two substantive story-arc changes that would make the book stronger. I worked and worked the first one, trying to figure out how to change the story without completely breaking the parts that were good… and simply couldn’t do it. All the evil voices came out to play, all variations on the theme of: You should be better at this by now. But I’ve encountered this particular Dark Force before, and I knew this:
If you’re struggling and all seems lost,
you’re on the verge of something great.
This sounds like a platitude – or, not coincidentally, the plotline of an awesome story – but it also happens to be true. (Hint: fiction is the story we tell ourselves to understand life’s true struggles.) Time and again, in the past, when I’ve been beating my head against a plot wall, the hardest struggle invariable precedes the best work. I’m a scientist – I notice correlation like this. I can’t prove causation, but it doesn’t matter. All I need is to note the pattern and work it.
So, I moved on from the first story-arc change, letting that lay for the moment, and worked on the second story-arc change. That one was no better. In fact, it was more difficult. But I worried that thing like a dog with a bone, and finally, an idea came to me – and that idea didn’t just fix the second story-arc issue, it fixed ALL THE PROBLEMS. It one fell swoop, notes large and small from three different editors/critique partners, were addressed by this one change. (Now, it still took time to actually implement the edit… but that’s the easy part. Knowing what to change is what’s hard.)
Long example, but here’s the upshot:
The struggle is the art.
There’s no “getting easier” because the art is born out of the hard noggin work that you do to make it. The anguish, the persevering, the triumph – they’re all part of the same process of art-making.
So, when the next newbie author asks me, “Does it get any easier?” my answer will be, “Only if you’re not doing it right.”