Word Power

Hitching words together

As a beginning writer, and sometimes even now in a rough draft, I was/am guilty of hitching too many words together in one long, convoluted, circumlocutious mess. In a stream of consciousness or when I’m trying to get out a lot of ideas in a short period of time, I tend to string them all together, running on from one phrase to another, determined that I won’t forget what’s on my mind, not one word. Sometimes I get only the gist of an idea, rewrite with a little more of the idea, jot down something in the middle that came to be because what I was thinking about reminded me of something else, carry on with the original thought and end up with something which has no sentence structure at all. There may be a metaphor or a simile, a reminder of a thought which I might flesh out into a full-blown idea. When I look back, I might have a sentence which takes up a whole paragraph or even a page, sometimes one which could easily be broken into a dozen sentences. Paragraphs which are so dense that it makes you tired just looking at it, imagining how long it will take to read it. There’s nothing wrong with writing like this in a first draft. Thankfully, writing is unlike brain surgery when you have to get it right the first time. Getting the words down is the first step toward finding out what it is that you want to say, what your story is all about. It only becomes a problem when it’s left like this paragraph, a jumble of thoughts and ideas, the power of which is lost.

Editing a jumble such as the above paragraph can be daunting. Good advice for gardeners applies here too. First prune the branches, then the leaves. In other words: first, work at getting the structure right. Then take out all the excess words. Delete, delete, delete until what is left is the great power in words.

So, how could I edit that first paragraph? Succinctly, to borrow an idea from Josh Billings, “There’s great power in words, if you don’t hitch too many of them together.”