Writing Anxieties: Words, Words, Words!

Writers trade in words. We use them, play with them, manipulate them, use them to make sense of the world, to express ourselves, to obfuscate, to distract, to amuse, to affect. Words are the very root of our trade. Some might say that our true root is storytelling, but that is the remit of a narrative writer, either fiction or non-fiction. Words connect the novelist to the poet to the journalist to the screenwriter to the technical writer to the blogger to the cook writing up recipes for publication. We express ideas through the medium of words.

So why are they an anxiety for me? (Well, to be honest, it’s more of a general worry than a deep anxiety, but I’m curious to hear how other writers deal with it.)

Several reasons. I look at my work, and I see repetition of words, often in the one piece. ‘Oh look,’ I said on the second glance over a short story recently, ‘how many times have I managed to use delicious? Crap.’

I have fall back words too, the ones that keep cropping up not matter what I write. This could be when it is erotica in particular – ‘press’, and ‘against’ are two I notice. Let’s have a ponder why I could possible rely on those ones…

I worry that for a writer I don’t have a large enough working vocabulary. It’s not that I don’t know the meaning of lots of words – I’m not running to the dictionary with every page of literary novel, for instance. It’s more a matter of using them in my own work, and using them naturally, for at the same time you don’t really want to write a piece that looks like you’ve scooped out the contents of the thesaurus and dumped them on the page. I was criticised for this recently in something I did, and the critique-er wasn’t entirely incorrect – at the time I was writing, though, I did think it was necessary though because there are only so many times you can say ‘shiny,’ for instance. The smart thing, though, would be to recall that it’s a matter of selecting the right word for that precise moment.

A further thing I noticed is that I have a problem with little words, the filler words that are a symptom of first drafts. ‘still’, ‘then’, ‘just’, ‘even’ (actually, ‘even’ is very much part of how I write. A stylistic tic, maybe?) It’s like the apocryphal story of Mozart – instead of too many notes, too many words. This does get better with practice, and is a symptom I think of beginner writers, the need to overstuff a paragraph to make it absolutely clear what you mean, but in doing so, lose the overall effect; just as a four line caricature sketch can convey loads of personality, the correctly chosen four words can create an immediate, powerful image.

What helps me through this? A few things. One, to remind to myself to read more, and widely, to see how people make use of their words. Two, that I’ll probably get better the more I write and the older I get. Three, the Find function in most word programmes is very effective in weeding out repetition. 😉

Any other thoughts folk on words, words, words?