I learned about this "hardest part of writing" back when I wrote my first novel, which is still in a drawer along with three other novels. The hardest part of writing is, simply, that it is very difficult for a novice writer to know if their writing is any good. Actually, it's also hard for an experienced writer to make an accurate judgment of their own writing.
To explain, please allow me to digress.
Imagine you just painted your first painting, a portrait done in oil. You hang it up on the wall between a portrait done by Rembrandt and a portrait done by Sargent, and you compare. Your first thought will be something like, Whoa, those other painters are way mo' bettuh. It will be painfully obvious that you've a very long way to go.
Now imagine you've just written your first symphony. Afterward, you listen to a Beethoven symphony, then yours, then a symphony by Mozart. Whoa, that's also harsh. In fact, it doesn't even seem like the same kind of art.
Let's try something less grand than a symphony or an oil portrait. You've downloaded sound recording software, got out your acoustic guitar, and sang and recorded your first song, a song you've been working on for months. After listening to it, you put on Joni Mitchell or James Taylor or Beyonce. Ouch.
People have always told you that you're a good dancer. (Kind of like the way people always told you that you were good with words.) So even though you haven't had specific training, you choreograph a piece and hire a dance troupe to perform it. Later, you watch the same group perform a dance by Twyla Tharp. You immediately think that maybe you should just be happy being an accountant.
Okay, last comparison. You just finished writing your first mystery and you set it on the table next to ones by Patricia Highsmith, Agatha Christie, John D. MacDonald, and Edgar Allen Poe. You flip through the pages of each.
Hey, this is a lot better than comparing paintings and music and dance performances and orchestral compositions. Sure, you can see some things the masters did that you make a note of to try yourself. But all things considered, your mystery seems pretty good. Just like the others, you've got a character in trouble, and a very nasty bad guy, and you've got a nice variety of scenes, and there's that real tense sequence at the end where it looks like your hero is going to die. While it's obvious that your second novel will be much better, your first is looking good, right? Even when it sits next to those by the masters, right?
Then you send it to an agent or a publishing house and hope that someone pulls it out of the slush pile and recognizes its genius.
Here's what happened to me. When I sent out my first book, agents and editors didn't respond except to send me little pink or green slips that said, 'Dear Sir or Madam. Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it doesn't meet our needs at this time. Good luck placing your work elsewhere.'
Why didn't my first novel make the grade?
Tune in next week for Part Two.