I once met a newly-retired cereal executive who asked me what I did for a living. I said I was a writer. He said, hey, what a coincidence, he was thinking of becoming a writer.

“Hey, what a coincidence,” I didn’t say, “I was thinking of becoming a cereal executive.”

I’m sure he didn’t mean his comment as an insult to my profession, but I took it as one, just as I take other similar comments from non-writers—for instance, “I’ve got a great idea for a novel, but I just need the time to write it.” Well, yes you do. That, and talent.

If I sound defensive, I guess it’s because I am. I mean, they’re right, or at least more right than I’d like to admit. They figure that they’ve spoken words all their lives, and writing is putting words down on a page, so how hard can it be? Besides: They’ve actually written! They’ve written term papers or annual reports or grant proposals. They’ve put words down on pages in such a way as to accurately communicate their intentions. For all I know, the former cereal executive could have written—or even did go on to write—a perfectly respectable book.

But they’re also wrong, these non-writers who think that writing is easy. If you’re reading this blog, I probably don’t have to tell you, but just to be clear: Writing is hard. Actually, please allow me to edit myself, because edit themselves is what writers do remorselessly: Writing well is hard. Really hard. It takes years and years of practice, exhausting dedication, and, yes, talent. And even then, even extraordinarily talented writers will look at their writing and ask themselves: Who wrote this crap?

But the hardest part of writing—the part that makes writers (or me, anyway) defensive around non-writers who don’t appreciate how hard writing well is—is making it look easy. Revising and revising and revising until it looks effortless. Revising until someone who doesn’t know any better might read what you’ve written and say, “Hey, I could do that!”

Hey, no you couldn’t! But next time, I’ll try to take it as a compliment to my profession.

Snap! Crackle! Pow! [better word??]
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Richard Panek

A Guggenheim Fellow in science writing, Richard Panek is most recently the author of The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality, which won the 2012 Science Communication award from the American Institute of Physics, and the co-author, with Temple Grandin, of The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, a New York Times best-seller and the recipient of the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Nonfiction Book of 2013. He also wrote the National Geographic giant-format movie Robots 3D, now playing in museum theaters across the country. His educational and professional background is in both journalism and fiction, disciplines he combines in trying to illuminate the history and philosophy of science even for readers who, like himself before he begins his research, would know little or nothing about the topic at hand.

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One thought on “Snap! Crackle! Pow! [better word??]

  • February 26, 2018 at 11:14 am

    So glad you said it, because I have thought this countless times. I suppose it’s human nature, though, to believe you can do something as well as, or better than someone else. I’ve been a writer/ poet my entire life, or nearly and am stunned that many believe anyone can write. I also directed a non-profit adoption agency for about thirty years. I was often stunned when ignorant people, often first-time adoptive parents, would say, “Hm.. I should start my own adoption agency”, as though this were as simple as ordering something on Amazon.

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