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Having Difficulty Writing? Good.

with 3 comments


According to many cognitive scientists, accomplishing a task with little money or resources may be harder, but it also makes us vastly more creative. This article describes some of the products of creative people placed in (sometimes deliberately) difficult situations – the Beatles’ Abbey Road, for example.

Is there something to the “starving artist” stereotype?

Fans of J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series know that she was on government assistance while writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, jotting much of the novel down in coffee shops, finishing it up on a manual typewriter. And then there’s this:

You might have thought any tool which enables a writer to get words on to the page would be an advantage. But there may be a cost to such facility. In an interview with the Paris Review Hughes speculated that when a person puts pen to paper, “you meet the terrible resistance of what happened your first year at it, when you couldn’t write at all”. As the brain attempts to force the unsteady hand to do its bidding, the tension between the two results in a more compressed, psychologically denser expression. Remove that resistance and you are more likely to produce a 70-page ramble.

Rowling’s not the only successful writer to have to overcome obstacles – in this video, Stephen King discusses writing longhand; when Carrie was published, King was working as an over-worked, underpaid english teacher in rural Maine. Rowling and King are just two examples of successful authors who started in imperfect conditions. After some rumination on this theory, I can think of several writers whose work has, in my opinion, suffered after they’ve become famous, though this certainly doesn’t apply to everyone.

Thus the question: do you write better when you have obstacles placed in your way (physical, financial, or otherwise?) Would you ever deliberately make things harder on yourself to improve your writing or other work?

Written by Jen Szymanski

November 14, 2012 at 11:01 am

3 Responses

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  1. I do wish people would stop using “Harry Potter” as an example of actual writing. What next? “Twilight”?


    November 15, 2012 at 4:06 am

    • Thanks for the “like.”

      I used Rowling’s Harry Potter as an example because I think it fit well with the point of the post. Furthermore, the series is relatable, in my opinion. As far as your assertion that it’s not “actual writing,” I think that the definition of writing depends on the reader. Are they reading to experience great literature? To be inspired? To be informed? To be entertained? If it’s the last, then I think the series fits the definition.


      November 15, 2012 at 7:35 am

      • The Three Stooges were entertaining, too. HP was a market driven attempt to find a niche that would sell books. Firstly, a book for young, young adults and secondly as a device to lug into the zeitgeist of eternal childhood and arrested adolescence that seems to be so popular today with the YOLO crowd. As the books became more successful, the writing became less disciplined (she became too big for her editor), less internally coherent sloppier and more indulgent and the marketing much more slick and cynical. It is, in fact, an example of awful writing.


        November 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm

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