Notes From the Wasteland No. 37 ‘Do You Do This One Thing When You Write?’

I worry about the words I use. I constantly worry. I think too much sometimes about each word and find myself adding words when actually I should be taking them away. I’m doing it now as I write this. Look at my first two sentences. Really that should read, ‘I constantly worry about the words I use.’

I worry because, like everyone, I set myself targets – daily targets, like a regular number of words, that sort of thing. I’m sure we all do this but the fear of not reaching a target is very real, to me, at least. I feel this fear on a daily basis and when I do I tend to extend my sentences, stretching them beyond where they might likely rest if they were given a choice. This means that each word strains against the next, sometimes not making a clear enough progression through the sentence. Instead of being simply enough, my sentences contain an inherent uncertainty and this can cause them to lose their impact. This then causes my paragraphs to be longer than I would like, with a succession of extended sentences unclarifying the point of the paragraph, muddying the flow down the page.

Of course, once I’m editing I can prune back the words, hacking and cutting as if I were trimming an unruly plant. This allows me to retain, or regain, control of my words and ensures that my paragraphs don’t collapse under their own weight. You would think that I had learned my lesson by now and was disciplined enough to make sure that I controlled my words in the first place. But I’m not and I can’t so I keep extending and stretching followed by hacking and cutting. There’s something natural about this cycle, after all, something comforting, so perhaps I should simply stop complaining and keep pruning?

What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Notes From the Wasteland No. 37 ‘Do You Do This One Thing When You Write?’

  1. This is my perpetual struggle. On the one hand, I feel the urge to make progress. A thing can’t be refined if it doesn’t exist, right? On the other, I don’t want to create more work for my future self (and attack my own confidence) by leaving sloppy prose on the page. So the first hour of any session is filled with back and forth, false starts, and an overheated backspace key.

    Then I finally allow myself to just go, and the next hour is a lot more productive.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me then. We’re always in conflict between our present and future selves when it comes to writing, aren’t we? That’s what makes the whole thing so pleasurably unbearable, if you see what I mean? I’ve started following your blog so thanks very much for dropping a comment – it’s nice to know that people sometimes read what you write. Good luck with your projects.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Pruning is all well and good. A much better practice than attempting to fill a void to fit a word count for sure. That being said, I’m not at all a fan of word goals. The pressure I place on myself to hit them almost always ensures inferior work or no work at all. Just write.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Diego, thanks for commenting. I agree, just write. I’m back and forth with word counts. In certain contexts I have found them useful, completing my doctoral thesis, for example. The task was just so enormous that if I hadn’t broken everything down into much smaller pieces I would never have submitted – small word count goals was the only way for me to finish the thing. But, as you say, the pressure created by word counts can also be counter-productive. It’s all part of the journey, I guess.

      Liked by 2 people

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