It doesn’t seem that hard at first. When you’re caught up in the thrill of creating people and telling their story, writing feels like the easiest thing in the world. You just go on doing it until you get to the end. Then you put that first work in a drawer for a month and look at it again. It doesn’t look at all like the brilliant story you remember. In fact, it sucks.
But you bear down, start reading about the craft of writing, and join a writer’s group, either online or in person (or both). You learn to spot your worst problems, follow the advice you get on fixing them, and fiddle with your manuscript until it is much, much better than when you started.
Then you collect 114 form-letter rejections.
If you’re not discouraged at this point, you park that first manuscript in a drawer for good and start the next one. You’ve already learned a lot about writing from the first one, so this one is stronger from the outset. Again, you revise it and have it critiqued and generally mess with it until it’s as good as you can get it.
This one does better. It still gets a stack of form rejections, but some of them are slightly personalized, and two agents ask for first chapter and synopsis. So you have tantalizing, month-long waits before . . . rejection.
It’s usually at this point that you lose focus. You might obsess about your technique, as if there were a particular subtlety to writing that you’re not seeing. So you build a library of writing books, read everything you can on the internet, and analyze bestselling authors to the point that pleasure reading becomes work. Eventually, you can rattle off the fourteen different ways to build micro-tension and list the eleven flavors of third-person point of view.
This all might even help. But more likely than not, while you’re refining your technical skills until you can construct a story that’s as precise as a Swiss watch, you’ll lose track of the reasons you were writing the story in the first place. I help people develop their storytelling skills for a living, so I know the value of studying the mechanics of writing. But I also know the limits. Careful study, and even great editing, can only make you competent. It takes something else to become brilliant.