Challenge,  motivation,  On Writing,  publishing

The Myth That Writing is Hard…

I Wrote This in 2009…

I have updated it for 2023… It is long but I thought it needed to be said again. And note, this was written before I was doing a blog per day.


This myth comes in many forms and has many faces, but let me put it as plainly as I can to start.

Myth: To be Good, Writing Must Be Hard. (And it can’t be fun.)

Total hogwash, of course, yet it is stunning how many new writers believe this, and how readers, when they bother to think about it, believe the myth as well. And, of course, almost everyone who teaches creative writing in a university program believes this as well, and teaches the myth.

Where does this myth come from?

Answer: A thousand places, actually. But I think the best place to look first is at writers themselves.

Fiction writers are people who sit alone in a room and make up stuff. By its very nature, one of the easiest tasks ever given to a human being. But, alas, fiction writers are people who make stuff up, and thus, making stuff up doesn’t stop when our fingers leave the keys. We use words like “struggle” and “fought” in sentences describing the creation of a story. “I had to really struggle with that story.” Or “I fought that story into existence.”

Good, active writing. Who cares if the reality was you sat fairly still, in a comfortable chair, in a warm room, at a computer, and just made stuff up.

Don’t forget that we writers, by our nature, are drama queens, to say the least. Because our task is so easy and so much fun, we have to make it seem harder to those around us, and to ourselves, otherwise we get no credit for all the “hard work” we do every day.

Writers play up this myth of “hard work” so much, we actually start believing it ourselves at times. If nothing else, fiction writers are the masters of self-delusion.

A second place to look for why this myth exists is the culture of publishing. But let me do the math one more time to show just how really silly this is.

One manuscript page is about 250 words. This post is now a distance past that number of words right here. So if I write one page, 250 words, I would be done writing in about 10-15 minutes. Sometimes quicker. If I did that 10-15 minutes every day for one year, I would complete a 91,000 word novel, about a normal length paperback book. (Two of my 45,000 word books in 2023.)

Oh, yeah, that’s hard work, sitting silently for 15 minutes per day and moving my fingers. And the current culture would consider me a prolific writer if I did that every year for ten years. Heaven forbid I actually write 30 minutes per day and produced more than one book a year.

We writers have to really hide this math, and we have to really do a lot of drama to keep the world believing that working fifteen minutes a day typing is hard work. Stunning how good of a job we have done in this scam, isn’t it? As I said, we are masters of delusion, self-delusion, and just flat making stuff up.

Of course, there is always the “art” argument that comes flying in. Writers who want to hold onto the myth that writing is hard work talk a great deal about the “art” and the “craft” of what they do, especially out in public. But the truth is, when we are really creating art, we are doing it from the back of our brains, typing fast, buried in the story.

So the myth of writing is hard has built up. How did that come about?

In the beginning (I love starting a sentence like that), all writers struggled over simple sentences, meaning back in the early days of learning how to talk and write as kids, writing was hard for all of us. I went all the way through college avoiding any kind of class that forced me to do a paper or essay. I hated writing. It was just too hard. Much easier for me to do a multiple choice test.

Most people never get past those early, almost basic memories. So we grow up thinking that someone who can write a story, an article, or heavens, an entire novel, have a special power and are working really, really hard to write. Some writers I know actually still believe this.

And, of course, the pulp writers, pounding out thousands of words a day, actually were working hard on those manual typewriters. Go ahead, don’t believe me, try pounding out a single page on a manual typewriter. You’ll be covered in White Out and your arms will ache.

But sitting here in my perfect chair with perfect arm support, letting my fingers try to stay up with my old brain, I’m not doing much work. In fact, if I didn’t get out and do some exercise, some sort of movement in the real world, I would turn into a 500 pound blob with fingers. That’s right, I have to get up and move away from the writing to do any real work or exercise.

Also, the early days of trying to learn how to tell professional stories is difficult and very frustrating. The people around you think you are wasting time, your family talk in worried whispers behind your back, your workshop hates everything you type, editors give you form rejections, and even your cat won’t go near your computer chair. Everything about learning how to write stories in the early professional days is hard. No argument.

The early days of trying to learn how to write professional level fiction is an ugly extension and reminder of learning to write as a child. Very basic fear. It’s a wonder any of us ever learn how to write novels, now that I think about it.

And of course there’s Practice. Don’t even mention that ugly word to writers. Writers, unlike any other brand of art, think they don’t need to practice.  Practice is hard work for the most part. Anyone who played a sport or a musical instrument knows this fact. So when writers are practicing in the early years, it is hard work.

And remember, learning is uncomfortable by its very nature. When you are learning something new, it makes all us uneasy, makes us want to return to the status quo of not knowing something new. We all like stability, but when learning writing and craft of story telling, there is no stability. A writer is constantly trying something new, constantly on edge, and thus it feels hard and uncomfortable for years at a time. That’s normal, just normal. And clearly not hard work, but because the learning and trying something new feels difficult, we think it is hard work.

And this applies when we are struggling (nice word, huh?) through a story and it feels like it’s not coming together. That, we say to other writers, is working. We had to “work” at the story, the plotting into an unknown place felt uncomfortable, therefore it felt hard and if it feels hard, it therefore must have been work.

As I said, writers as great at self-delusion.

Let me try to outline in simple form where writing is actually hard, and where it isn’t hard.

Where writing is hard.

1) The business of writing is hard. No argument there at all. And that business comes flowing into the writing. Thoughts about selling or not selling stop most writers at times. That makes the typing hard. Just dealing with cash flow, doing proofs, doing covers, setting up a store, and everything about the business is hard.

2) Discipline is hard. Just carving out time to write is hard. Really hard, actually. Especially in the early years when the feedback loop is so negative. Simply finding time to get to the computer is hard when day job, kids, and bills get in the way. That’s hard and very hard work. The fun starts when you get to the chair with some time ahead, but getting there is hard work early on.

3) Writing more than six to eight hours a day is hard work. I know, under deadlines, I have spent that many hours and many more at a computer. When you write for eight hours a day, you know you have physically worked at something. But fifteen minutes a day to write one novel a year. That’s not work. Write ten thousand words a day for a week and you will know real hard work in the area of writing.

Those are the only places I can think of that writing is actually difficult work.

Where writing is NOT hard.

1) Sitting in a chair for an hour or so a day, making up stuff, is not hard work. It’s just not.

2) Coming up with story ideas and novel ideas is not hard work. In fact, after a while, professional writers have far, far too many ideas to ever think about writing them all, and we are constantly coming up with new ones every day. Coming up with story ideas actually becomes annoying because there are so many and it is so easy. (Fear of ideas not coming is something you learn your way past in the early days, the uncomfortable days. No worry.)

Where writing is just flat fun.

1) Sitting in a chair, making stuff up, while knowing that someone will pay you a lot of money for what you are making up. Yup, that’s fun.

2) Knowing that the typing you are doing today might still be read and earning you and your kids money fifty years from now. No other job I know of has that wonderful aspect to it. That’s fun.

3) Finishing and publishing stories is fun. Some of you might call that work, but actually, it’s fun. (If you think of it as hard work, if the fear is trying to stop you, you have other issues to get past.) Every time you publish something, you have put potential out there and that’s exciting.

As an attorney friend of mine once said, when he goes to work, he gets so much per hour and then goes home. When I go to work, finish a story and publish it, every day I have the chance of making a lot of money and being read by a lot of people and making money with what I did that day for decades to come. That’s exciting and fun. Approach publishing as fun.

4) I wrote that. Yup, that’s fun, great deals of fun, simply saying to someone, “Yes, I wrote that.”  Signing books for fans who love your work is not work. It’s an honor and a ton of fun.

5) The challenge of the business. Nothing is easy about becoming and staying a professional fiction writer. The business, the push to continue, the dealing with money is never easy. But the challenge is great fun. If you aren’t the type of person that goes at something that seems impossible and says, “Oh, why not, let’s try,” then you might want to find another job to chase. If you feel that security is everything in your life, then go work for Enron (left that in on purpose). That should do the trick. But if you love challenges, there is no more fun challenge than this business.

Suggestions on how to make writing more fun.

1) Take the pressure off. Simply put, this is not brain surgery. No life is in your hands other than some made-up characters. And you can kill them if you want, since you are God in your story. Take off the pressure.

2) Take stock of how you feel when you get up from a good writing session, where you finished pages. Do you feel good, excited, happy? Most of us do, sort of like just coming off a good carnival ride. Remember that feeling when you go back to write the next session or the next day.

3) Make publishing fun. You are in control of your work completely and it doesn’t get any more fun than that.

4) Stop calling your writing work. Stop thinking of writing as a grind. Stop complaining to other writers all the time how bad the week was and how little you got done. In other words, CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE.

If you have an extra ten minutes, write something. If you are lucky and have a few hours, be excited about sitting down and exploring whatever world you are running around in with the story. Come at the writing with excitement, with expectations of fun, with delight.

As a mug I use for tea says on the side, “Attitude is everything.”

So now I write for a living, and I enjoy it even more than I ever did. I have a very, very cool story to finish tonight, one that I have been playing at too long because I’m just having too much fun with the idea. Am I going to work now?

Yeah, I suppose, since I make my living at my writing, I am going to “work” now. But I sure ain’t complaining about how hard I work. Or how tough my job is.

I sit alone, in a room, and make stuff up. That’s my job description. I have, without a doubt, the easiest and best job in the world.

It is a giant myth that my job is hard work.


  • Sheila

    Learning how to write is hard. Or can be. It takes time and considerable effort to learn how to put a story together. Many think it’s all about ideas and “originality”. They think learning to be a writer is something you can pass on to them in five sentences or less. Like, how to unclog a drain. A quick video and you’ve got this.

    Learning the ins and outs of publishing can be hard. Same with self publishing. There’s so much we need to know, even if we can hire some of it out. And marketing! For some of us, that’s really hard.

    But the writing? So easy. Once you sit down and start, it just flows out. When I’m writing–in the zone, the flow–it’s so easy it’s almost like I’m not doing anything at all. And when I’m done, got my 2500 or so words done (seems to be a sweet point for me), I feel so happy, so energized, so complete, it’s the best “high” ever.

    • dwsmith

      Sheila, I agree with the second part. The first two points of learning writing and publishing is hard is just an attitude and myth. Not hard at all. And no repercussions if you miss. Unlike learning to be a doctor or lawyer. Learning writing and publishing with the correct attitude is just great fun and the excitement of learning new things. Anything else is a myth that you just repeated.

  • T Thorn Coyle

    ::claps:: Always worth saying again, especially since “I hate writing/writing so hard” memes are still all over the internet.

    I have to say, since shifting my attitude toward “learning business is fun” the angst and fear around that is gone, too. And lo and behold, I’m making more money and reaching more people.

    • Emilia

      ““I hate writing/writing so hard” memes are still all over the internet.”
      I feel a bit of an outsider in writing communities because I can’t relate to the memes and jokes. I can’t really say anything to the contrary without coming across as mean, so I’m happy to have found this blog and like minded people.

      • Charlotte

        Emilia, I think there are a lot of us. We just keep our heads down and our mouths shut most of the time while we write stories instead of procrastinating. I can’t relate to most of the writing related things I read online these days, it’s getting harder and harder to weed out the crap. All the more thanks to you, Dean, for this blog and the courses you’ve created. Most professional communities are much harder to get into.

  • Michael W Lucas

    I’m just shy of nine years full-time at this, and there’s only one spot of “writing work” I’d call truly hard: Restarting. Sometimes life hits and I can’t write for a week, or a month. Catch covid, the power is out for four days, basement flooded, you know.

    Reestablishing that discipline the first day is a challenge. I just gotta turn off the Internet and get at it. Figure out a project I can complete in a single day, like an article or story or something, so I get that nice glow of victory at the end of the day. Maybe arrange a treat for when I finish that first project. It’s your brain, figure out how to jump-start it.

    The second day back, though? That day is freaking glorious.

  • Kat Faitour

    Hi Dean,

    I’ve been reading your blog and your work for a long time now and I truly don’t think this point can ever be overstated. Have fun. You end with that advice a lot, here and in your course videos. It’s easy to skim past it, but it’s such a key attitude.

    I finished watching the Quarterback on Netflix and there’s a clip where Patrick Mahomes is talking about playing in the Super Bowl. I’m paraphrasing here but he basically pointed out they weren’t being themselves in the first half. They’d let “playing in the Super Bowl” get in their heads. And he reminded everyone they were just playing a game of football, something they all loved. And, of course, they went on to win.

    I’m not equating writing with playing football, but the attitude similarity is interesting. It’s a great show to watch to see into the minds of elite athletes and to see how those attitudes can be incorporated into our own lives.


    • dwsmith

      I say it all the time because so many writers are looking for the “secret” to being a professional writer and that is the secret. Stupidly simple and so hard for so many to do with all the myths.

  • Phillip quinn morris

    Back in the days of traditional publishing when I had a rewrite to do I’d do the whole manuscript in a couple days then let it sit for a month before I sent it in and talk about how much work I’d done on it and how hard it was to my editor. That’s not my general way but they were so myth a fixated I felt I had to humor them.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, I did the same thing. Editors in New York were the worst on this, but if they needed something quickly, this myth seemed to vanish for them temporarily.

  • Keith West

    To steal a line from Lawrence Block, you tell lies for fun and profit.

    For me, learning is fun. And that makes learning to be a better writer and improving at craft fun.

  • S. H. Miah

    “1) Take the pressure off. Simply put, this is not brain surgery. No life is in your hands other than some made-up characters. And you can kill them if you want, since you are God in your story. Take off the pressure.”

    This is what changed things for me. So freeing, since now I can focus on telling the stories I want without the intrusive thoughts that used to stop me cold:

    Will it sell?
    What if I don’t make the money back? (Back then I thought I’d have to spend thousands on what Dean calls book doctors and hundreds on a cover.)
    How am I going to promote using like ten different types of paid advertising?
    How am I going to make a full time living in X years?

    And on and on and on.

    Now it’s just sit down and have a blast. And, strangely enough, the money’s slowly starting to add up when the pressure’s off.

    • dwsmith

      Yeah, it does work that way. And when you are having fun writing, it comes through for the readers and they enjoy your work.

  • Wynand Pretorius

    Had a writing buddy who always complained about the absolute torture of writing. Met him before I started my first book, and almost never did it because of his sentiment. Blood, sweat and tears.

    Then around 2007 I wrote my first novel.

    For me it was the most rewarding time I have ever spent. Living in a story is simply amazing.

    For the past ten years I have not written nearly enough and yes I can make up every excuse (some valid), but my lack of writing had nothing to do with it not being fun.

    And thank you Dean, your 15 minutes a day has just put some things back in perspective for me as well.

  • Kerridwen Mangala McNamara

    This kid (and my 10yo, who treated basically the same way when I suggested we edit the book she’s writing) has got Critical Voice on the mat and out!

    The eight year old: I wrote another book, my best one yet
    Me: That’s so great, do you think you’ll be a writer when you grow up?
    Her: *stares* Did you not hear me, I wrote books. I’m a writer already
    9:41 AM · Aug 22, 2023
    (From Funniest Parenting Tweets on HuffPost)

    • dwsmith

      Why in the world would you want to EDIT a 10 year old? Just like I tell writers with their own work, leave it alone. Don’t teach a kid habit that kill the fun of writing.

      • Kerridwen Mangala McNamara

        Yeah, I wasn’t really thinking about it…

        OTOH, we homeschool and she doing this partly to tell her story and partly to learn to write English. I try to get her to practice writing in things that aren’t near and dear to her heart… but she wants me to read this behemoth that is… honestly kind of excruciating.

        Mostly I was trying to get her to put in paragraph breaks and maybe clarify who is speaking so I can follow the action.

        We were more fluid about writing with the older kids… who learned to write e essays for their college applications and AP exams and who have told us to give the younger ones some more direction e earlier on.

        It’s a balancing act… and SO much easier with the kids who write voluntarily …which includes my 10yo, so you’re absolutely right and she’ll get there in her own time table!