The Writing Life: 108+ Steps from Victory (Or – Keyword Search Hell Awaits!)

You know, I really wanted to be done with The Killer and The Dead by now.

I haven’t fallen victim to perfectionism, honest.

What has happened is I have realized in the course of reading the book again, that in addition to making semi-final additions to the manuscript for clarity, plot, and theme advancement, and possibly my own amusement, I have also been, in passing, fixing random pieces of flabby writing as they catch my eye. Double verbs or nouns that aren’t serving any significant purpose, unwanted repetitions, unnecessary extra words that add nothing to the sentence and so are the author’s equivalent of leaving an “um” in the text. (There are a couple at least in that last sentence, but I’m not being wildly anal here, thank you very much!) These are the words that for one reason or another were buying me time as I worked out what I was doing in that sequence of the long-ago first draft, and have, through dint of unobtrusive passivity, hung around through many layers of editing to almost make it into the final version.

It is word-winnowing time. I knew it was when I randomly started doing word searches “just to see how many” are in the text – and found too many, and a bunch all clustered together that my eye and voice have passed over too many times already. I winnowed one from 44 iterations down to 16. Then searched for its similar pals, then for other words I spotted while winnowing those down, then I stopped myself and went back to fixing something else.

I didn’t want to do this. I had convinced myself that I had internalized lots of editing lessons after doing endless word searches when tidying up The Thief and The Demon’s manuscript. And I did internalize a great deal, but there is always more, verbal tics or unwanted crutches can find ways to sneak into your writing at any time. Some are new to this book that weren’t there in the last: or maybe I just didn’t notice them… aaagh! I’m not going to go check, I’m not, I’m not!

So anyway, I have at minimum 108 word searches to do of the entire manuscript. Probably more as I seek out extra words that are specific to this setting that I don’t want to batter to death. It will make the text tighter, easier to read, more engaging. That’s the point. And there is a certain pleasure to be gained from winnowing out the bogus words that have lurked for so long in the hope of not being noticed by the editor, and seeing how even small changes can reap big rewards in terms of sentence construction, presentation of meaning, strength of setting and voice.

So that’s this weekend accounted for. And probably the next. There are rabbit holes out there, and word searches reveal a lot of them. I shall have to take care not to fall down too many!

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