Writing Is Fun. No, It’s Not.

I like the writing very much. I often ask my writing friends if they like to write and they always say that they don’t. They love the research, perhaps the fun after a book is published, but not the task of writing. I think that it is the glory of the work. You have assembled all of this information. You have thought about it. You have dreamed about it. You’re ready. You are bursting with all of this and then you have this meticulous, but somehow not entirely rational, process of organizing it so that you communicate it transparently to other human beings. That is great fun.

—Richard Rhodes, interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-SPAN’s Booknotes.

I always liked writing when I was a kid. I like it less and less as I get older, but now it’s too late; I can’t do anything else. I can’t. When I was young, I just loved using words and writing about my feelings about this great diarist or great writer. But now that I have to do it to put food on the table, it’s not nearly as much fun. I never really wanted to do it seriously, as a way to make a living, until I was out of college. I had a number of failed attempts at other endeavors, except I didn’t fail up, I kept failing down.

—Andrew Ferguson, interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-SPAN’s Booknotes.

P.S. Failing up is easier for editors than for writers.


  1. Edward Kosner says

    I loved to write before I became an editor and I love it even more now.

  2. Ted Van Dyk says

    Agree with Ed Kosner. Loved to write as a kid and loved writing (and editing) in various adult pursuits afterward. Reading and writing go together and too few now bother to read. If you do not read you cannot write.

  3. Jack Limpert says

    A lot of good writers haven’t been good at running the edit side of magazines and newspapers. How good a writer does a line editor or copy editor have to be?

  4. Edward Kosner says

    I worked with some terrific line editors who were at best indifferent writers. I don’t know how they did it. It’s a major advantage as an editor to be a good writer because you know you can rewrite anything if need be.


    Dear Jack,

    When I was about eight years old, my dad, who was a lawyer, told me:

    “If I had the time, I’d write you a short letter.”

    He was a fan of Mark Twain and quoted him often. Dad also told me another Twain dictum:

    “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

    From that time on, to write became fun for me. Lightning bugs make me happy, but I’m always on the lookout for the immortal thrills of lightning.

    I’ve been lucky to have line edited some writers who I know had as much fun writing as I do.

    The humorist Art Buchwald found extreme happiness in his ability to see and to express in words the unvarnished actualities of the real world and human condition and yet make people smile. He was funny because he had so much fun in accurately telling real truths. He quickly intuited just the right form for a story (usually about 750 words), and then he flashed some serious lightning amidst his friendly lightning bugs. He was grateful for all editing suggestions that sought the lightning.

    Isaac Asimov had so much fun writing in his West Side garret that after a while it was just about all he did. I line edited a series of his syndicated science articles and, just like Buchwald, he almost never disputed an edit because he was always on the lookout for another bolt of truth. All I’d have to say or note was, “Is there a better word?” and he happily hunted until he found it.

    Pablo Neruda, a wondrous Chilean poet, worked for lightning bolts on every line. I helped to translate into English a version of his Fulgor y Muerte de Joaquin Murieta (The Brilliance and Death of Joaquin Murieta) and his ability to find just the right word, both in Spanish and English, was not only fun but usually funny.

    I’ve known a few self-proclaimed writers who whined that writing was for them a torture. They knew zip about either lightning bugs or lightning, and nothing was less fun than their darkness. When writing stops being fun it’s best to stop writing.


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