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The writer will see you now

I once heard a writer on a panel say, in all seriousness, “Why are people so sure they can sit down and write a book? You wouldn't expect to be able to do brain surgery the first time you tried it.” I like writers. I consider myself a writer, but I have to say writing is not brain surgery. For one thing, no one dies if you get it wrong. For another, the graduation between writing well and writing badly is a sliding scale with an infinite numbers of points on it— as opposed to say, “patient survives and is not paralyzed” versus “dead patient.”

I think mostly the guy was just feeling the lack of respect that comes from writing genre. He wanted to think that writing a book is as hard as removing a tumor from someone's frontal lobe. But the fact is, the act of putting words on paper is something almost everyone learns how to do, even if they never try to write a book. Most new writers might produce poor to middling' work the first few books, but there are some who sit down and write a masterpiece the first time they try. They are few and far between but they happen. Ever heard of any brain surgeons who skipped medical school?

I thought of this because at the moment, I am re-writing an older book that my writing group gave me some new ideas for, and in some ways, it is like surgery— not brain surgery but more like multiple organ transplants. I'm moving the guts of the story around and grafting on a few new parts while amputating others. I have to figure out which parts to keep, which to move, and which to toss, and then create in some new chunks to stitch it all together in a way that results in a live patient— er, story. In some ways, it's painful; I wish I had an anesthetic.

But it's still not brain surgery.

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( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 10th, 2010 03:28 am (UTC)
I never make the comparison with brain surgery, but I do make the comparison with professional musicians. That's a much better analogy, methinks.
Jun. 10th, 2010 03:35 am (UTC)
that or sports. With both there is the fact that society can only support a limited number of professionals. And also, talent counts but so does discipline and determination.
Jun. 10th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
Those are MUCH better analogies. A lot of people can pick up an instrument and learn to play it. But not everyone becomes truly exceptional at it. It's those who dedicate themselves to it who stand out.
Jun. 10th, 2010 04:28 am (UTC)
“Why are people so sure they can sit down and write a book? You wouldn't expect to be able to do brain surgery the first time you tried it.”


I get what the guy is saying, but at the same time there are far fewer people in the world who can perform brain surgery than can write. Writing is far more easily learned than brain surgery. True, exceptional writers are hard to find, but that still an order of magnitude away from brain surgery.
Jun. 10th, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I thought he really chose the wrong analogy. It might have gone better to say, "Just because you can throw a baseball doesn't mean you can play in the majors." The brain surgery thing just made him sound whiney.
Jun. 10th, 2010 05:04 am (UTC)
yes, he did go a bit down the hyperbole road. writing is not brain surgery . . . but good writing is HARD to find. REALLY HARD to find. I think many people falsely believe anyone can sit down and crank our a Harry Potter and Sorcerer Stone on the first go. It takes practice . . . revisions . . . learning . . . ripping our hair . . . chocolate consumption. Learning to be a brain surgeon takes learning . . . ripping out hair . . . mountaind dew or coffee. It all requires a learning process.
Jun. 10th, 2010 01:44 pm (UTC)
Chocolate consumption? Why was I never made aware of this necessary step in learning how to write?? I got ripped off!
Jun. 10th, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
I do agree too many people think, because they can put words on paper, that writing is therefore easy. And you could make a case that just doing it is easy, it's doing it well that's hard. I like the phrase "hyperbole road." That about sums it up!
Jun. 10th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
What? You didn't get the memo? Ooops! Sorry. Maybe the higher ups have the wrong email. Or maybe the faeries were up to their shenanigans again and deliberatly deleted it from your email.
Jun. 10th, 2010 08:16 am (UTC)
Cuts are always painful!
Jun. 10th, 2010 01:55 pm (UTC)
Jun. 10th, 2010 08:29 am (UTC)
'But it's still not brain surgery. '

And a jolly good thing too. I'd hate to have all that squishy mess all over the kitchen table ;)
Jun. 10th, 2010 01:55 pm (UTC)
I, for one, am thankful!
Jun. 10th, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
Wow, that is an arrogant statement by that writer. Writing is definitely hard, but nothing like brain surgery. It's not some magical talent that only pops up in a rare few people. The fact is, there are tons of people who can write publishable material. Not all do. Maybe they're lazy, they don't really care for trying to get published, they are making non-writing mistakes like sending their work unsolicited or in the wrong format. But in essence, they still know how to write.
Jun. 10th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
Jun. 10th, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
I think I must be a sadist...or a masochist, depending upon how one looks at it. I enjoy the revision process, especially the cutting part. Maybe because I'm looking at the shininess underneath rather than the slop on the operating room floor?

I do understand the panelist's lament, though. Maybe everyone thinks they can write because most everyone can, as you said, to some extent. Few know what goes into the actual process of writing a novel. Few will consciously recognize those errors we've toiled and trained NOT to make.
Jun. 10th, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
>Few will consciously recognize those errors we've toiled and trained NOT to make.

I think you put your finger on it. The average casual reader doesn't even recognize good and bad writing in published books, so why should they think it's difficult to write well?
Jun. 10th, 2010 02:51 pm (UTC)
I have a very knowledgable finger. ;)
Jun. 10th, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC)
And you're very free with it, too! -)
Jun. 10th, 2010 03:48 pm (UTC)
Teehee. Better that than up my nose, eh?
Jun. 10th, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
Absolutely agreed. First time I tried brain surgery I made this huge mess of it, and then there was the whole "explaining if to the cops" thing and the vendetta by thefamily and...
Jun. 10th, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
hee hee hee. you're definitely a writer. you made your point with a story.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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