Have you ever needed to sleep soooo badly, but you just couldn’t doze off? Maybe you had a crazy plot line on the brain, or you were reliving that all-too-real horror scene from Carnival Killers you just watched on Lifetime after everyone went to bed. Whatever kept you awake, the only thing that could possibly help you doze off was picking up a chemistry textbook, or maybe listening to a speech about tube socks…or even reading this:
He went to the park. He saw the man he wanted to talk to. The man was dressed in a drab suit and looked bored as he stood there with a newspaper and a cup of coffee. He paced slowly, waiting for someone, but not knowing who. He finally grew tired and sat on a nearby bench, observing the crowd.
Aaaaand, cut to snooze. Could that be any more nap-worthy?
Remember swooning over vocabulary lists in 6th grade with the two other geeks in school? Flash back to the bliss you felt when you learned words like penultimate or coddle. There’s a definite cool factor in play when we get to use powerful new words, and many of us learned that at a young age. (It’s an illness.)
We’ve all written shit. Why? Because it’s easy to slide into the sludge pit of ‘went, said, did, saw…the end.’ It’s a super-simple formula to follow. We’re not necessarily looking for the easy way out, but sometimes we get tired or stuck, and occasionally, the private brain-thesaurus we depend on simply refuses to give up anything useful. So, we settle.
We’ve also written shit because WE ARE DOERS AND TRYERS. We refuse to give up because we love what we do, and sometimes that means experimenting our way through new techniques, challenges, and styles. Writers are bold and brave, and we go out on limbs—and everyone knows when you’re out on a limb, that’s when you can fall and bust your butt.
But those moments when we soar? That’s what keeps us going. There are times when we feel so good about our work that we sing the Evita theme song from the rooftops. (Oh wait, that’s just me. Disregard.)
The Writing Hangover
The day after you create something shitty (or even semi-shitty…which is just about every new piece of work ever), you will be rudely awakened by an unholy dose of sunlight, followed by a vague recollection of adverb abuse and verb catatonia (scientific phenomena found within the writing community). Welcome to the writing hangover phase wherein regret slaps you upside the head and you recognize the fact there’s now a shitstack of writing that needs to be reworked.
Grab some coffee, Shakespeare. You’re gonna need it.
You’ll go to sleep with a masterpiece, but don’t be surprised when you wake up to a disaster. After sleeping on it, you’ll realize the amount of word-slop you glopped onto the page like an unapologetic cafeteria lady slinging a mystery casserole. And you’ll thank the universe you had the forethought to keep your first draft under wraps for the time being. (Don’t beat yourself up too much. We’re all paddling through our own word-slop oceans.)
How to Kill Your Words & Make Better Ones
Rest easy; it’s not as bad as you think. You probably have a phenomenal idea! It’s just camouflaged…behind a whole lot of anemic verbs (and other things we’ll discuss later).
It happens to everyone. It’s easy to fall into the trap of being too comfortable. If you’re a really good writer, it’s even easier. (WHAT?!) Yup, let me explain. As you get more proficient and efficient with your writing, especially if you’re doing it to make a living, it’s very inviting to fall into a pattern that repeats itself. Back to the formulaic setup:
Get up. Write words. Turn in words. Make money. Repeat.
We fall into this pattern in life, too. Get up, pack lunches, send kids to school, go to work, repeat. But be careful, because writing that gets too formulaic will start to look and sound the same. And eventually readers will get bored.
Porridge vs. Fajitas
As writers, we must continually think up new ideas and find ways to create new worlds for readers.
No one’s gonna sit around and eat a bowl of boring-ass porridge when they can have a platter of sizzling fajitas.
Be the Fajita Platter
The basic sentence-crafting formula is easy: Noun + Verb = Sentence. Boom! (In our sleep, right?)
But how do you come up with new ways to say things ALL. THE. TIME?
Fire up the GRILL and COOK FAJITAS, baby! Buckle down, focus, and make it spicy. It takes longer to go back and evaluate your word choices, but in the end, you’ll be glad you did. It takes practice, balance, and a whole lot of shaking things up to find your very own style and voice. But when you do? That’s seriously something to be proud of.
Sizzling Fajita Recipe for Writers
The Internal Battle
An internal battle will ensue. Your inner self will say, “Nah, it’s ok. The grammar is good enough, and the sentences are readable. I have other things to do, like take naps and eat sandwiches.”
But the writer in you will fight, proclaiming loudly that you did NOT need to use the same verb four times. And it will shame you into admitting you singlehandedly abused a pronoun enough times to be considered a menace to society.
Revamping Your Verbs
Here’s the down-and-dirty about revising, re-verbing, and revamping your writing after you’ve discovered the weak spots. First pass: Look at your verbs.
|Instead of this:||Try something like this:|
|look||glare, glower, peek, peer, glance, gaze, peruse, scrutinize, admire, notice|
|walk||saunter, tiptoe, skip, trek, trudge, race, hurry, amble, strut, stroll, slog, toddle, shuffle|
|laugh||giggle, guffaw, snicker, roar, shriek, chuckle, howl, sniggle|
|sleep||snooze, doze, pass out, languish, dream, nap, drop off, conk out, nod off, hibernate|
|say||screech, yell, mandate, cry, weep, snip, comment, spout, lecture, drawl, drone, persuade, gossip, chant|
Take an honest pass through your writing and look for verbs that are lackluster, repetitive, or just plain boring. Try replacing them with verbs that have a little more VAVOOM and see what that does for your writing.
If you have a writer friend who critiques you honestly, fairly, and in a constructive way, that means they believe in you and your writing. (Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother.) Ask them for their input and advice, even if it’s for a quick chapter review. You’ll likely get some great direction that will help you as you move forward with your project. (Also, they’re a pretty good friend, so keep them around.)
We’re All Growing
The opposite of growth is decline or lessening, and I don’t know a single writer who wants to do that. Let’s keep growing, supporting each other, and improving so we can put our very best work out there.
It takes longer to go back and evaluate your word choices, but in the end, you’ll be glad you did. You’ll be a better writer, and you’ll gain more readers.