I had a great writing weekend! I’m editing my manuscript hard and heavy now. Now that I’ve got my files salvaged from previous computer mishaps, I’m really excited about barreling through to the end and getting this thing done.
This weekend my biggest chore was “getting the words right.”
I always loved the interview that the late George Plimpton did with Ernest Hemingway in the Paris Review. It went something like this:
Paris Review: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times.
Paris Review: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
I love that quote. It’s so profound and so simple at the same time.
In choosing the right words in a manuscript, sometimes the wrong ones jump out at you. (“Do I really mean ‘shuffle’ here, or ‘scamper’?”) Other times the right word is ever-elusive, and you keep resorting to some terrible word like “assessment” because it’s really the only word that even comes close to what you mean (even though you used “assessment” about two paragraphs ago, and you can’t think of a replacement for that one, either. Grrrr.)
Other times you know you use a certain word excessively, and you end up doing a search for something like “looked” because you know you passed your “looked” quota about twenty-seven looks ago. You get out your trusty Thesaurus and try to think of alternatives: He gazed. He glanced. He studied. He regarded. He eyed. … Ayeee. … It never sounds right, and you end up spending an hour on a single, poorly described “look.”
And most writers know what words they overuse. We’re all guilty of it. I was chatting on Twitter the other day with one writer who said that she constantly overused “shrugged.” All of her characters were shrugging, she said. (Sometimes you find that all of your characters are nodding incessantly, too.)
What about you? Writers, do you have certain words you constantly overuse? And readers, who are your favorite authors for always “getting the words right”?