This is a day for theory. Argue it out with me.
One thing that has always struck me about the difference between how writers and non-writers work comes down to one of the most basic building blocks of our language: the words themselves.
Or, more precisely, how we approach those words.
If that sounds like the most self-evident phrase in the history of humankind, then bear with me.
Those among us for whom writing is a casual act often to seem to get stuck by the gluey pursuit of crafting one word at a time, one after another, in the slow-going slog of creating a coherent sentence.
Writer-writers seem to work in longer strings: phrases, sentences, paragraphs, ideas wrought from end to end; word-strings that seek to express a bigger picture than the individual word can convey.
Sometimes, the writer’s notebook entries are indeed fragments, turns of phrase, ideas awkwardly expressed in the haste or laziness of the moment. But individual words are the rare visitors to those treasure-trove pages. It is the colorful combinations that allow us to paint with a view to the greater canvas rather than to a single brushstroke.
Getting stuck on a word is a frustrating place to be. Forgive me as I turn this post into a smorgasbord of metaphors, but the situation feels like this: When writers get tangled up in their own underwear—at least when this writer does—more often than not it’s over an individual word. It throws itself into one’s path like a tree fallen across a road. It can tie up progress indefinitely. Leaping over it doesn’t seem right. Clearing the way by figuring it out then and there…well, that takes time.
Writing is a backward/forward process: forward to the thought, forward again to its execution, backward to rework it, backward-backward in second-guessing it as the story evolves. Keeping the eye on the idea, on the image, is keeping the eye on the prize. Write word by word, and one never finds the way through.
Word-Glue is sticky and unpleasant. Yet nothing holds together without it. Skating over the top of it—that’s the trick. And the skill.