After finishing a major round of revisions this past week, I wanted to celebrate by posting something profound, or inspirational, or at the very least something helpful to other writers. What I landed on is probably not any of those things, but it’s a topic that’s been stuck in my brain for days.
A line from Rebecca’s hilarious post on Thursday sums it up well:
“Not everyone knows what it is like to work for hours, agonizing over the subtleties of word choice. (Is it a secret meeting? A clandestine meeting? Does a stealthy meeting make sense?)”
Word choice. As writers, it’s our job to play with words, to throw them against the wall and see what sticks. It’s fun. Too much fun, maybe, because in addition to spending waaaay too much time wrestling with a single word or phrase, I get carried away with my own little writer quirks that I don’t even recognize until a) someone points them out or, b) they suddenly become glaringly obvious after I failed to notice them on fifty-three previous read-throughs.
My most common quirk, and luckily the easiest to fix, is adverb overkill (see paragraph above). I love Stephen King’s view on adverbs in the fabulous On Writing: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” He compares them to dandelions, and if you haven’t read this book or even if it’s been a while, I highly recommend…uh, I recommend it a lot. Mui mucho. Page 125 in particular.
Quirk #2: Sentences where I like two adjectives equally well and can’t choose between them: “Joe felt worn and worried.” “Floyd’s briefcase looked scuffed and scratched.” Why use just one when you can double up for twice the impact? And yes, most of the offending phrases throw in some alliteration for extra kick. Sweet!
Quirk #3: Recurring verbs—oh, the verbs. I try to choose strong verbs, verbs with impact, until they turn into doorstops strewn across every other page. My favorite verb in this manuscript turned out to be fling. Well, flung, I guess, since it’s written in the past tense. Characters were flinging things all over the place. Objects were flung to the floor with reckless abandon. It was a flingin’, flangin’ train wreck. HOW DO I NOT SEE THIS STUFF UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE?
I could keep going. No shortage of quirks here. But as much as I like to torture myself, deep down I know that all writers have to face similar demons. That’s why we’re so grateful for editors and critique partners and understanding spouses. They help us spot the quirks so we can smooth them over. They allow us to view our work through a more objective lens. And they remind us not to stress so much. Yes, writing is hard work, but it really is supposed to be fun, too. Overwhelmingly, amazingly joyful and jubilant (she typed emphatically, flinging feisty fingers across her fragile keyboard).
Wishing you all a fine Monday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out spring 2015 by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.