Jonathan Mayhew I have news for you: contra everything else I have ever said, writing is not fun or easy. It may be for thee and me — or is in my case, when I take the time to do any or have the peace of mind one needs to think the long thoughts one must in order to have anything new and deep to say. However, I have now verified that we are in a minority and it is because of field. I did not expect this semester to undertake informal research on the difficulty of writing but I have amassed at least some anecdotal data.
I chair a committee which is writing a long document to justify the existence of several entities on campus. We are humanists and social scientists, and each of us is doing research for and then writing several different pieces of the document. I am the editor and compiler.
The humanists chose the more qualitative and philosophical portions of the project. They did the research and wrote their pieces, which needed very little editing. The social scientists chose the more quantitative parts of the project and gathered data, created charts to help them interpret it, crunched numbers and entered things on Excel sheets. Then they struggled with their prose.
Finally they straggled in, with incomplete writing but piles of fascinating data, tails between their legs. “I am so embarrassed. Can you help me make this look better? I have wonderful information and ideas but I will never be able to express myself as elegantly as you and Professor Y.” That they were in this much genuine anguish was extremely interesting.
The most embarrassed and blocked, although not the very worst writers, were the ones with the largest holes in their vitas and I understood instantly: there really is such a thing as a writing problem that is just that — a writing problem, that probably only can be overcome with a get-it-done attitude, really basic decisions about discipline like “I will write for 30 minutes now,” and the acceptance of the fact that for them, writing will just always be hard.
Robert Boice is in psychology and works with social scientists, so I now understand what he means much better than I have ever understood before. There really are people to whom his advice applies precisely. This, of course, only provides further support for my own point: if you are not one of those people, then you really are not one of those people; if the writing problems you have come from another source, you must allow yourself to name the true source if you hope to actually address them.