The Tyranny of Words

I’m an editor. It is my job to help others choose their words carefully. I make sure those words aren’t too many or too few in number, suggest new words to achieve a desired effect, and verify that all words in the final draft are spelled correctly and arranged in a grammatically appropriate order. This, of course, isn’t the same as actually writing.

Now, I can write too, but for some reason, I can never seem to finish works of fiction. All writing is exhausting work, but somehow I find writing fiction a particularly wrenching experience.

Oh, yes, I have a handful of ideas, but I can never seem to make myself follow through with writing the silly things from start to finish … or from finish to start, or from the middle outward, or however one is supposed to make a story erupt from the ether and materialize on a screen. I even succumbed to peer pressure this year and started writing for NaNoWriMo, but by the tenth of November, my will to write had disintegrated into a fine powder and sifted down into the little gaps in the parquet flooring. I still have no novel to show for my efforts.

This is really quite disappointing, since this one particular story has been clanging around my mind for more than a decade. And yet, somehow, I just can’t seem to draw those smoky, formless wisps of plot and character out of my mind and onto a page; worse still, when I do finally clack out a few words on the keyboard, those tendrils-turned-text prove to be little more than trite, traipsing tripe. Or so I think.

Sound familiar?

It doesn’t really matter what you’re writing, whether it’s a brief news article, a short story, or a mammoth doctoral thesis — writing can be stressful. Even when the actual content is simple and impersonal, writing may be an intensely personal process for the simple reason that you probably want to prove how skilled and intelligent you are, especially if the person you desperately need to impress is yourself.

I sympathize. In fact, I agonized just a little too much over this very blog entry. I worried about what people might think of an editor who has trouble with creative writing. Should I publicly confess this?

In the end, I decided that I would expose my own literary demon in the hope that, if nothing else, it will show one thing about me: I understand the agony of writing. There’s the need to write more, better, faster, and the worry that careless little mistakes will invalidate the resulting work; the desire to take bold risks, and the fear of being derided or dismissed. Those little words hold so much power.

Sometimes, though, you just need a little help with the big picture. And when all revisions have been made and you stop banging your head against your desk, you will own those words, every last one. They will be yours forever.

That goose egg, on the other hand, won’t stick around for more than a few days.

About quillsandqueries

My editing experience includes a wide variety of books, articles, and commentary in both fiction and non-fiction. I work with authors of novels and short stories, students preparing for their dissertations, and corporate clients who publish in the financial and education sectors.
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