October 30, 2012

Editing as self-knowledge (or how many times can you use thrall in a novel?)

I am not one of those people who dislike being editedAs long as the editor knows what she's doing (and yes, I am still shuddering from memories of enforced peer-editing sessions in high school and even university....ugh), it's an essential part of the process.  Problems that have persisted for months can be prodded and untangled due to an editor's ability to get to the root of the problem.  It's not that writers can't edit their own work (we spend at least half of our writing time doing this, if not more), but at a certain point, I feel like I've taken a text as far as I can, and nothing short of time (to acquire fresh eyes) or another person's point of view can help me.

It's actually a really joyous process to have someone clear-sightedly pinpoint the problems in your text and help you find a way to fix them.  It is a privilege and a relief to have someone enter into that kind of relationship with what you've created.  That being said, editing leaves you totally exposed, and it is really humbling to have all your mistakes pointed out.  But humility is a good thing.  

It's also really informative.  It turns out I have some vocabulary quirks, most of which I hadn't noticed before:

I use for as a conjunction a lot.

I overuse the word clad.  (But it's so succinct!)

I tread on the razor’s edge of overuse when it comes to hearken, conjure, thrall, and foray.  (Good thing I’m not writing about, I don't know... Victorian magicians or something.  Then I’d really be in trouble.)

It’s an interesting question (er, to a writer): how many times do you think you can use the word foray in a 437-page novel?  I had three but cut one after my editor suggested it was a very noticeable sort of word.  (Really?  Okay.)  Then again, I lost sleep over my own two thralls, which I ended up leaving in.  I think part of me was so enamoured with those particular sentences (sometimes a bad sign) I worried everyone else would notice --- but I don’t think they will.

What are your personal danger words, writers?  Or words that make you raise an eyebrow when you see them in someone else's book?  I know that I have a hate-on for most highly specific medical terms unless they appear in a hospital context.


Alice Zorn said...

Hearken, thrall, foray, conjure... I don't think I've ever used those words. Perhaps that allows me to dot a few here and there.
My danger words or phrases are all so common compared to yours. I have characters pause, wait, stand etc "for a moment". What is that moment about? It's just empty verbiage. But boy, am I fond of inserting that beat.

saleema said...

I'm scared to do a search on any so-called regular words in the text...I know the results will be troubling!

I have lots of those less flamboyant connectors and fillers, too. 'The next day' is a particular problem for me.

Alice Zorn said...

'The next day' is a killer. But sometimes the circumlocution to avoid it is worse.

Samantha said...

In a recent story, I used the word "torso" twice and was told it was jarring. I didn't think of it before, but I suppose it is a strange, clinical word to use!

PS I love those words of yours!

m said...

Your list of words make me so interested in your novel! They're great words.

I used 'seep' in my poetry collection three times--I had to cut two of them.

Teri said...

I love hearing writers talk about this stuff ("thrall" is a great word!). Honestly, how did people write books before the Find and Replace function?!

I tend to repeat words like "nice" and "quiet". Things are nice, or they are quiet, or they are both nice and quiet at the same time. It's embarrassing. I don't wanna know what this says about me as a writer.

saleema said...

@Alice -- I think half of my 'the next day's became 'the next morning'. *shrug*

@Samantha -- yes, I think I would get a (slight) jar from torso, esp. more than one! But it's funny how specific these things are. I know people who use torso a lot in conversation (always in the context of personal proportion of one's torso to legs? i.e. some people have short torsos..?! I guess that's a thing), which I always find strange in the moment.

@m --- ohh, seep, that's a great one. I can see wanting three.

@Teri -- re: find/replace -- NO idea. re: nice & quiet -- this can only say, well, nice things :)