A to Z Challenge 2013

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Writing Is Work

A new follower (thank you Johanna for joining) had an interesting rant about readers of books. Near the bottom however, she begins to talk about how we as writers agonize over finding the right word. This hit a chord with me, because it's a habit I've taken great pains to overcome - and I still do it from time to time. I will be writing along just fine, and suddenly I want to convey a particular image or piece of dialogue. Rather than settling with:

The sun set in a mirrored sea of reds and oranges, gasping out its last breath before vanishing for the day.

I will agonize over whether "reds and oranges" is good enough, whether that really describes the visuals adequately. I actually like this example, but even now while I'm trying to talk about this phenomena, I paused for a few moments before typing the second half of that one sentence. Yes, I'm willing to admit it. When we're dealing with an entire novel full of pauses, the writing process can break down.

I've tried to explain to my wife (who is incredibly supportive despite the fact she hates to write things herself) how difficult writing is for me. She gets this blank look in her eyes like I'm trying to spin a yarn, con her into buying beachfront property in Nevada. She's waiting for the punchline, because obviously a writer complaining about how hard writing is must be a joke. Despite the implication that writers write effortlessly, the truth is that it's harder for us than anyone else. That's a hard truth for us to recognize. It's even harder for us to acknowledge the fact and let the words form on their own. Have you overcome this particular habit? Or have you been lucky enough not to be plagued by indecision?

11 comments:

Amy Tate said...

Eric I feel your pain. One of my favorite books is the Oxfod American Writer's Thesaurus. It contains a feature called, Choose the Right Word. It lists similar words and their meanings, along with how to use it in a sentence. I've found it to be an invaluable tool. It's a bit pricey, and it's a big book which takes up a lot of space on my shelf, but it is well worth it.

T. Anne said...

I do struggle with finding the right words but usually not until the editing stage.

jessjordan said...

Writing is easy. Writing is hard. Writing is impossible. I love this. I hate this. I give up. I'm awesome. I suck. That sentence is cliche (elongated pause to come up with some clever and non-cliched ...). That description is perfect. That phrase is overdone. That's not the word I'm looking for. That's not what I'm trying to say. That's not what my character would think in that instant. What is the stupid word/phrase/image I'm looking for ???

This is what I go through on a daily basis.

Jamie D. said...

Ditto jessjordan.

I often remind myself to "NaNo" it, when writing the first draft. Basically, don't think too hard about it, just get the first draft *done*, then agonize over the revisions.

But that only works part of the time...

beth said...

I'm OK in the rough draft--it's during the revision that this kills me!

B.J. Anderson said...

Bleh. I'm always plagued by it but have gotten a little better in the last couple of years.

adrcremer said...

I love this post! I get the same reaction from my super-supportive husband when I'm agonizing over my writing. I think no matter how supportive there always remains a disconnect of those who live in the writing mindset that the rest of the world.

You make a great point about cliches in writing and storytelling. I went to my favorite children's bookstore today while there were several fantastic books I found myself thinking "hmmmm, a lot of these look like the same thing..."

I can't remember where I read it, but somewhere I found a great piece on the way writers usually have a signature word or phrase that they rely on too heavily and that maturity in writing involves knowing your own unique voice without using those favorite words too often.

Wordver: desish = when a serpent tries to tell you to stop doing something

Danyelle said...

Sometimes you've just got to sit down and write. Worry about making the prose work perfectly later, that's what revisions are for. Until I accepted this (for me), I never finished a novel because I was always trying to fix stuff instead of working forward. :D

Abby said...

I'm always looking for just the right word. My thesaurus and I are very close. :) I don't think it's something I'll ever overcome.

Eric said...

Amy - Thanks for the info on the book. I'll have to check that one out.

Jess - Your mental process sounds exactly like mine.

Jamie - I might have to try your NaNo idea, see if it works for me.

adrcreamer - I know what you're saying about using the same words all the time. I have been trying to pay attention to that more often as I learn to write better.

Danyelle - That sounds good, but I still haven't mastered the ability to do it yet. I will keep trying though.

Roderckdhu said...

In a writing class years ago the teacher made a comment that stuck with me and has come in handy every now and then. If you find yourself agonizing over a sentence, a phrase or a word, forget it. Just move on. Perfect phrases only exist in context. If you're stuck on the phrase you are never going to get the context done.