Your Questions Answered: What Is the Hardest Part of a Book to Write?

Your Questions Answered: What Is the Hardest Part of a Book to Write?

When I started this little adventure of blogging on a more personal level here on my “author” site (versus my for-writers site Helping Writers Become Authors), I asked all of you what you’d like me to write about. A ton of you were awesome enough to flood in suggestions (saving me brainstorming time–yay!). Today’s is from Ysa Rivas. She wrote:


Question for you: What, for you, is the hardest part of writing a book?

I had to stop and think about this one for a bit. Why? Mostly, because every book is its own adventure. The process changes in ways, little and small, from book to book. Also because: the hardest part of writing the book is writing the book. As my grandpa used to say about old age: “This ain’t for sissies!” And then again, by somewhat the same notion, it’s difficult to identify the hard part since there really aren’t many particular aspects of writing that stand out as harder than the rest. But I gave it some thought and realized there are actual several different aspects of writing I find to be “the hardest,” for several different reasons.

The Hardest Part: Beginnings

My stock answer about the hardest part of writing a book has always been: The beginning! A thousand times the beginning! Back when I used to keep a faithful writing journal, in which I’d write a short entry at the beginning of every writing session, I had to laugh when Day 10 entries for both Behold the Dawn and Dreamlander began exactly the same way:

I Hate Beginnings Journal Entries

There’s just so much to juggle in the beginning of the book: I need to write something awesome enough to hook your attention, something that introduces the characters in a memorable and characteristic way, something that sets the tone, sets the stage, and sets up the conflict–all while trying to find my own feet within the unique tone and voice of the story, and usually after having been away from “active” writing for a couple months.

It often takes me until the end of the First Act (the first quarter of the story) to really get my feet under me. My family and friends know by now that I’m extra grumpy during that part of the process!

The Part I Work Hardest At: Bad Guys

Not until my current WIP, my historical superhero story Wayfarer, have I finally written an evil antagonist I am wholly satisfied with. But of course, you’ll have to wait to meet him!

I find it kind of ironic that I, of all people, struggle with bad guys. As an INTJ (as per last week’s Myers-Briggs post), I should be a card-carrying Evil Mastermind, right? (Which is to say: INTJs are routinely stereotyped as evil geniuses. Saruman? Hannibal Lector? Lex Luther? All INTJs. Of course, Batman is also an INTJ, so that kinda evens the scales…) But I admit it: bad guys tend to bore me. I don’t care what they’re doing or why, so much as that they’re catalysts to give my heroes an opportunity to be awesome.

INTJ bad guys Saruman Lex Luthor Hannibal Lector

I know, I know. Bad author. Which is why I work really hard at trying to make them just as interesting and compelling as my protagonists.

The Most Boring Part: Revision

Here’s the irony: if revisions aren’t hard (as in, the editor hands you back your bleeding manuscript and tells you to rewrite 75% of it), then I get bored fast. One of my favorite tricks is letting stories “rest” for several months between edits, which not only helps me get a fresh perspective, but also gives my critique partners and beta readers time to provide feedback of their own.

The Most Terrifying Part: Being a Writing Teacher

Maybe I’m fixating on it since I’m cruising in on the release of my next novel (Storming, December 2015), but I have to say the scariest part of my writing life is definitely the fact that I’m not only a novelist, but also a teacher of novelists–which means I’m supposed to live up to my teachings.

Scared Cat meme

But I’ll say it upfront: if I were able to incorporate everything I’ve ever taught about writing into my own writing? Pfft. Steven King, watch out!

I’ve always liked the quote:

INTJ Bad Guys Saruman Lex Luthor Hannibal Lector

That’s how I feel about writing. It’s a challenge to tell stories and tell them well. It’s hard to write beginnings and bad guys. It’s hard to sit down for the gazillioneth edit. It’s hard to send an inevitably imperfect story out in the world to be judged.

But it’s also exciting! If writing were easy, I wouldn’t love it so much!

Let’s chat! If you’re a writer, what is, for you, the hardest part of a book to write? If you’re a reader, what do you think would be the hardest part? Tell me in the comments!

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  1. The opening for my first Chapter. Wanting to get reader buy in from word one.

  2. I don’t find revision boring at all! Frustrating at times, but I’m better at it than I am at writing rough drafts.

    As for the hardest part, it varies by project, but probably it’s getting the ending right, a thing I have so far failed to do.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      I will say that writing is almost always *harder* than revisions, but I guess that’s what makes it more interesting to me!

  3. I believe you hit it on the head, K.M. Each element of a book carries with it a different burden (and even then, those burdens will shift from one element to another). Where I used to hate openings, I now love them. Where I used to love endings, I now dread them. Coming up with the Opponent’s agenda always used to be a challenge, but now it’s become a drudgery. And tomorrow, this list will flip flop.

    But, like you said, if writing were easy, we wouldn’t love it so much. It’s the challenge to our creative muse that keeps drawing us back to the blank page. We’re compelled to fill it. We can’t help ourselves. We’re like painters, staring at a blank canvas, imagining all the beautiful things we could fill it with.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      It’s definitely an evolving journey. Things that used to be hard are easy now; other things that used to be hard are even harder! Every book brings it’s own interesting challenges.

  4. David Villalva says:

    I’d have to agree that Part One (roughly the first 25%) is the hardest part for me, too. It’s a beastly challenge to keep readers engaged while also setting up the following three Parts.

    Thanks for the fun read!

  5. For me, it is really just hardest to keep going, no matter where I am in the book. I get bored easily so it is a constant study in perseverance and focus to come back to the story every day (well, more like every couple days *guilty look*) and get back into the story. That’s why I try to write in huge chunks at a time. I’ll often spend a whole day, 6-8 hrs writing, and punch out a few chapters, then not write for a week, just because it is so hard for me to get into it a little bit at a time every day.

    The second hardest part is when one of my beta readers shoots down an idea or a part of the story that I really liked. I know deep in my gut that they are right, but I love my darling, I don’t want to kill it! I’m argumentative by nature, so its hard to admit that everything I write isn’t perfect the first time. That’s why I’m so grateful for my beta readers!!

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Taking criticism about something we love is *always* hard, but one thing that I find helps me tremendously is to face the initial criticism with a simple, “Thanks, I’ll consider that.” Then I’ll let the idea sit for a day or two (or even a week or two), until I’m no longer so reactionary and can respond more objectively.

  6. For me it’s probably writing big fight scenes between the protagonist and the antagonist.And also trying to figure out what the next great scene should be and how to not make it boring for the potential readers.

  7. Finding the perfect ending tends to be the most difficult part for me. There are always so many possibilities, but only one can properly conclude the narrative that precedes it. It’s a struggle to wade through all the scenarios that run through my mind, but hugely satisfying when an epiphany is reached!

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Sometimes, I’ll outline or even write multiple endings, to test which is the best. It’s definitely tricky to get all the pieces in the right place and all the loose ends tied off properly.

  8. Aside from actually finishing the story, it’s the ending that keeps troubling me. I try to avoid tropes and cliches, but I’m afraid I fall into them towards the conclusion. Do you have any advice on this? 🙂
    On the other hand, I never had any problem with beginnings. When a story comes to me, it’s like a scene in a movie. Probably because I’m more of a visual person. But I should also work more on my villains to make them more… well, evil.
    Great article, thank you!

  9. Stephanie says:

    The hardest part for me has to be the fear that keeps me from /actually writing/. It’s central to all of my problems when it comes to writing: procrastination, constantly jumping back and forth between ideas … I don’t know what part of the /process/ would be hardest for me, because I’ve never even started it.

    I enjoy reading all of your wonderful posts, and I hope I’ll actually be able to apply them eventually in a story I’m writing. For what feels like forever, I have been my own worst enemy.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      You’re not alone. This is probably the chief bugbear that most writers face. I’ll actually be doing a pretty extensive post on procrastination and motivation next Monday on Helping Writers Become Authors.

  10. R R Willica says:

    The hardest part for me is the middle of the book. I know how it starts, I’m excited for the ending, but filling in the part between is where I struggle. Even when I know the road I’m taking, my brain likes to teleport ahead of me.

    I also have this same problem with reading.

  11. I’m glad you said that the hardest part of writing the book was writing the book because my first question/reaction was “There’s an easy part?”

    Also, letting a story “rest” for a few months. You’d mentioned this before but used different terminology… like shelving it, setting it aside… to gather dust and be forgotten (I had push-back on that, as you can see) but “resting” brings to mind something akin to baking, letting dough proof… rise, develop structure… before being pulled out, punched down and prepped for baking… as the analogy would go.

    And appreciated your thoughts on writing villains, as I happened across, very briefly, Gotham and Minority Report and in both cases the villains were pretty shallow, central casting, cliche’s of… nothing subtle or complex about them… and something I want to avoid if at all possible). BTW, you sure you’re not a card-carrying EBG? I’m beginning to think the pictures of cute animals may be a diversionary tactic…

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Ah, nuts, you saw through the fuzzy critters, did you? 😉

      And, yeah, that “rising dough” analogy is perfect. Gonna have to steal that one in the future.

  12. Oh I agree! I am struggling so hard with the beginning of my next book. I have started in a new scene at least 5 times now. I just can’t seem to get that part right, possibly because my protagonist’s young in the scene but the story is about her adult life. As for revision, I find it tedious but never boring. Tweaking it to have exactly the right words, reading it aloud to see how it sounds, all that’s good. Punctuation, I leave to an expert. In any case, great post as always. I am such a fan!

  13. Oh I also am an INTJ… evil geniuses unite? Lol

  14. Daniel Dyal says:

    I think the hardest part is when you’re completely blinded by your feelings. For example, I normally love what I write, but sometimes it doesn’t work where I put it, or doesn’t showcase a character in the right way, but I don’t see it because to me, I think it’s great.

  15. Until yesterday, the hardest part was to actually convince myself to get the first draft out of my system. Of a story I had been planning on and off for too many years now.
    Right now I just can’t seem to figure out a plausible Inciting Incident. (Even with a thorough outline 🙁 )
    Tomorrow, when I will have that figured out, I will not be able to make first plot point as exciting as I want. Then the middle, and so on and so forth.
    I think that every single step is a challenge, and that’s why writing –or rather any creative field– is so much fun.

  16. John McGinley says:

    The most exciting part of my writing so far was when I had to change my protagonists name as I couldn’t get inside his head, he was becoming non responsive, almost stubborn. The minute I changed his name, he opened up to me and the story got more interesting, the dialogue became easier, it was like he was directing a lot of it… exciting stuff… (I love that word ”stuff’ it covers a multitude of sins Eh?)

  17. I think the hardest part of writing for me is that my stories are rejected by just about everyone who reads them because they are never written they way they want or imagined they should be, or they aren’t written like the latest best seller. This, for me, is the hardest thing to put up with as a writer. I love the challenge of writing a story and putting in the hard work to complete it. I love trying to come up with openings and plots and plot twists. This is a whole lotta fun for me.

    Bad guys are relatively easy for me to imagine – I see many of them every day or read about them in the news. There’s no shortage of inspiration.

    I have a love/hate relationship with revision. As I discovered today as I revised one of my stories – I found an incomplete sentence in …

    I’m not terrified by the thought of being a writing teacher because I’ve been a teacher most of my working life. There’s an old saying: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink. There was always students who hated stringing words together and the thought of being creative made them physically sick. Students are under pressure to produce within a tight time constraint, a thing I loathed about education, and that exacerbated there ‘fear’. I knew who was going to enjoy writing and who wasn’t. As for the ones who hated reading, well …

    To be honest, I’m always trepidacious when sending an inevitably ‘imperfect story out into the world to be judged’. I don’t imagine I’ll ever develop a thick skin. But I’m a plodder – I’ll probably write something someone will like when I’m 90, which means I got plenty of time to practice. 😉

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Art is a trepidatious balance between vision–which is personal and sometimes simply unpalatable to wide audiences–and commerce–which is fun, rewarding, and sometimes soul-sapping. Most of us end up in a comfortable compromise somewhere between the two. Those who don’t inevitably have to come to grips with what they’re giving up on either side of the coin. It’s a hard truth, but true nonetheless.

  18. The middle is my worst part with all the fluctuations I have to add to make it interesting. Beginning and end always seem extremely easy! I know them right from the start before actually writing so..

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      I love middles. They’re the time of exploration and discovery! As long as you’re following the structural signposts (First Pinch Point, Midpoint, Second Pinch Point), it makes it much easier to avoid the “saggy” middle syndrome.

  19. The ending I think for sure. Or the back of the book. I can never figure out how to end the book.. it’s difficult since I sometimes decide to make a sequel.. The back of the book is also hard since that is the thing that gets my readers interested in the book.


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