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Word Choice

I am deep in the middle of a major revision of my fifth novel (no, I’m not going to tell you what it’s about... sorry). For this pass, I made the mistake of printing out this 70,000-word monster. There are so many edits and additions that keying in changes has become a monumental task.

But everything happens for a reason, doesn’t it?

In this case, it has helped me read this manuscript more closely. This morning as I was trying to decipher the scrawl I crammed between two lines of crossed-out text, I got to thinking about word choice. Why was I replacing the word ‘ran’ with the word ‘scrambled’?

With poetry, we consider the careful selection of each word paramount. We think about how the word sounds, what it does to the cadence of the sentence, how it affects the words around it. We do the same when we think about picture book text. The longer the piece, the less we talk about word choice. After all, more words means less importance per word, right?

My opinion: wrong.

I find myself toiling over word choice. Each word is just as important as the ones that precede and come after it. When I can’t find the right word, I flag it so I don’t forget to circle back at some point. Adverbs tell me I have not found the right verb. Word repetition and clichés tell me I’ve gotten lazy. Too many gerunds? Overuse of ‘that’ and ‘just’? I’m guilty of them all.

Sometimes it’s a matter of swapping out a word or phrase for a better one. Other times, I need to circle my wagons and figure out a better way to communicate something as a whole. New sentence. New paragraph. On occasion, new scene.

But that is what revision is for. It’s when I make sure every word in the book (and as I said earlier… in this case there are around 70,000 of them) is the right one and that it’s in the right spot in the sentence. And the sentence is in the right part of the paragraph and the paragraph 1) needs to be there and 2) is also in the right spot. Someone should draw me an algorithm.

For me, writing a book is a marathon. Getting out that first draft is only the first leg of the race. Revision is that long haul in the middle where you barely remember starting and the finish line seems so far away. But, just as with runner’s high, when I find that right word or phrase, there is no feeling like it.

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