Friday, September 08, 2006

The right damn word. . .argh

I was writing yesterday. I'm working on the first chapters of a brand new book, which means that I'm laying out all the new terms. As so often happens, I know what the stuff is, but not yet what to call it. So, when I got to the first actual use of a particular new word, I dropped in a (placeholder) and kept moving. No big deal, I've done this many times and I know I'll come back to it.

Then as I'm writing another scene, I realize that this scene has implications for something I'd done earlier and that I'm going to have to change that scene because of the new stuff. Again, no big deal, this happens all the time. But when I go back and look at the scene, I realize it means changing what I think was pretty tight little paragraph and coming up with the right word*. So, (placeholder).

*the right word—a digression. For me, the right word is not to be confused with what I will call the perfect word. The perfect word is one of those things that writers, with their invariably huge vocabularies, know exists to perfectly describe the thing in question. Usually it's a polysyllabic monstrosity of the 25 cent to 50 cent variety that makes you smile when you think of it. It also all too often ruins the flow and the voice, and should probably be tossed seconds after it occurs. The right word, on the other hand, is usually only a nickel word, and it's appropriate to the character's voice, the setting, and the situation—easy to find, right?

Anyway, I now have two placeholders and 2,000 shiny new words done on the book. Laura comes home, reads the new stuff, makes appropriate happy noises, and reminds me we have a faculty thing. (It was lovely by the way, soup and fresh bread with the English department folks–we seem to spend a lot more time with them than with Laura's own Physics people) Social obligations pleasantly fulfilled, we return home, do some reading and head for bed.

That's when the placeholders creep out of their spots and start whispering in my ear about things unfinished and how important they are. I ignore them, pick up Ellen Kushner's Privilege of the Sword, and try reading a bit more. This only makes things worse.

So, almost three hours after Laura has gone to sleep, I crawl out of bed and bang my forehead on the keyboard for twenty minutes until I've got something better than placeholders. I'm really happy with one and will probably keep it throughout, but the other turned into a multi-word sensory flow thing that may yet have to go. We'll see.

So, do you find yourself dragged out of happy sleep by words whispering themselves incomprehensibly (it's always incomprehensible otherwise, you could just jot them down and be done) into your ears? Oh and that's metaphorical, of course, I don't actually hear voices;-) What writing problems invade your dreams or prevent them?

4 comments:

Mari Adkins said...

What writing problems invade your dreams or prevent them? Characters fighting amongst themselves, or characaters vying for attentnion. I'm not sure which is worse. I have one banging around in my head right now - "Listen to me! I want to tell you my story!" But I'm busy with something else; still, said character refuses to bugger off.

Sean M. Murphy said...

Mostly, I have ideas that strike at me in the wee hours, though occasionally, it's the word dilemma. It will be the vague sense that the right word/description is standing just next to me, ever so slightly outside of my peripheral vision, a feeling that usually induces me to get up and tussle with the thesaurus, trying to derive the ordination of the word in question. (I tend to view language as a three-dimensional space, and words as occupying a specific location in that space, surruonded by other, related words. I was, therefore, thrilled earlier this year, when I learned of the Visual Thesarus project. Perfect!)

By the way, Kelly, you've nailed that description of "the right" versus "the perfect" word. I can't describe the despondency that can come with having found the perfect word and then realizing that I can't use it. Like crashing off an upper--it even makes me evil cranky.

Douglas Hulick said...

I don't ponder specific words so much as upcoming scenes, plot delopments, or ways to tighten up something I wasn't happy with when I last hit [S]ave. Ironically enough, I find that doing this stuff helps me relax and fall asleep. If I don't go over some aspect of the book after the lights go out, it is harder for me to doze off.

However, I don't let these things get me up out of bed. I learned a long time ago that while *I* might want to get up in the middle of the night and work on a story, my kids will have zero sympathy for me when it comes time for them to roll out of bed and demand breakfast. If I get out of bed to work, odds are good that the next day is going to be shot (both creatively and emotionally) due to lack of sleep. Instead, I have gotten pretty good at filing things away before falling asleep and the pulling them back out when I am in front of the computer. It's not 100% fool-proof, but at least I get enough sleep. :)

Kelly McCullough said...

Doug, you and I have such different processes it's sometimes hard to believe we're doing the same thing. I'm just the opposite about sleep and ideas. If I don't get up and write it down my brain will just keep working the problem in a process of "if that wasn't enough to get you out of bed, who about this? Or this? Or this?"

Once I've written it down, even just a paragraph or two to serve as cues, I'm out.