Humans have been writing for over 4,500 years. You would think humankind would have discovered a way to make writing easy. After all, one of the first things we learn in school is how to write. The alphabet leads to your name and other words, which eventually lead to sentences. Yet, despite years of constant practice, writing is still difficult. Everybody hits writer’s block at some point, sometimes we forget how to spell apple, and deciding where to put that pesky comma is impossible.
But why is it so difficult to write?
Words & Words Alone
The most difficult part of writing is conveying a message through words and words alone. No accompanying props, gestures, or expressions are included in a piece of writing. Due to a lack of intonation, the true meaning of words or phrases can be lost between the writer and the reader. Sometimes, active and passive voice can create confusion in writing that is easily resolved in voice.
To help convey your message better, you might include images in your writing, especially when the writing is directed toward young or new readers. You might overuse formatting techniques (such as italics) or punctuation marks (such as ellipses or exclamation points) to show emphasis. Many readers prefer audiobooks or watching movie adaptations of writing to reading because audio effects assist with understanding the tone of the writing.
At its heart, writing is the art of rearranging twenty-six letters (assuming you write in English) to convey a message. Those, along with some punctuation marks, are the only tools you have at your disposal.
An Invisible Audience
When speaking aloud, you can usually see your audience. Whether you are giving a speech to a large crowd or having a conversation with one person, you have access to real-time reactions to your words. As you speak, you can see how your audience responds to your content and delivery. If an attempt at a joke fails, you can move on quickly without embarrassing yourself. If your audience is leaning forward, you know they are interested.
On the other hand, you don’t know what your audience is thinking while you write. You can spend hours trying to analyze your writing from an objective perspective, but the truth is, it is practically impossible to know for sure if your writing makes sense and is intriguing to an outsider.
The best you can do is ask beta readers and editors to look over your work for you. Their suggestions will likely address the concerns of most of your readers.
And, of course, grammar. We’ve all asked ourselves whether a word is really a word, and it’s not uncommon to wonder why a piece of writing is overwhelmed with commas. How do you use a semicolon? Is this sentence too long?
Acceptable syntax differs not only from language to language but even between different regions that speak the same language. Shakespeare, the quintessential writer, should not be your role model for modern grammar. Do I need the Oxford comma (a comma between the last two items in a list)? And is it okay to break the rules of grammar in the name of creativity?
There seem to be endless rules and even more exceptions to grammar.
Considering all of these challenges together, I think the hardest part of writing is writing for someone else. You don’t know who that person is or how they think, but you want to write something that appeals to them. Somehow, you need to open up a part of yourself to a complete stranger. The only way to truly overcome these obstacles is to write for yourself. Sometimes, it is easy to get caught up in the world of publications, but it is equally and perhaps more important to occasionally write something for the person you know best: yourself. You don’t need to worry about grammar or whether your audience will understand your writing because you are the only person who will read it.
What do you think makes writing difficult? Let me know in the comments!