Thursday, February 4, 2010

Paralyzed by Word Perfection?

I'm not a perfectionist. I don't need things "just so." As a matter of fact, most of the time, I'm exceedingly laid back. Except when it comes to writing. There's something about finding the right word, that elusive adjective, the perfect verb, that can simply paralyze my fingers on the keyboard.
If you're a writer, you probably know the drill. It happens so suddenly, you hardly realize it. You're in a zone, typing out a scene or a quote or a sentence and suddenly - blank. You know there's a perfect word for what you're trying to describe, but you ... just ...can't... find And you stop. You think. You wait. You try to remember, and it's so close - but it's just out of your grasp. And then before you know it, your creative streak has ended. You're stuck. Over one stupid word.
That used to bother me, this obsession with word perfection. Then I met an editor who sliced and diced the English language as dramatically as those tableside chefs at Japanese restauants prepare your meal. Yes, come to think of it, she was the Benihana's of editors. It was amazing and terrifying to behold.
For instance, if she didn't know what word to use, one of her favorite tricks was to simply put an "ical" on the end of it. Like, "That description is too graphical," or "The photo isn't dramatical enough." She wasn't stupid - in fact, she had a master's degree. But she just didn't care. She wasn't a word perfectionist. And listening to her cringe-worthy sentences made me feel a little happier that I was.
So now, I try not to let my obsession paralyze me. If I'm writing a story and I can't think of the right word, I just put in whatever word I can think of - kind of like a placeholder. I mark it, highlight it, and come back - with a thesaurus and more patience. It's a pain in the butt. It slows me down. But as any word lover will tell you - it's worth it.

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