As a person who has embarked on a journey to relate the written word, it seems odd to me that sometimes one word can make all the difference. Strategically placed, a single word can be the difference between a good scene and a bad scene. The same is true in life as I came to find out when I was doing the first round of revisions on my novel.
I’ve spoken before about becoming a student of the craft and opening myself up to the possibility that sometimes your work must be torn down to its barest bones in order to make it better. When I started reading the comments from my editor, I was prepared for the inevitable “this doesn’t quite fit,” or “let’s try this try this a different way.” After all, we spoke the same language: writer. And I trust her implicitly.
And then, out of nowhere, I was blindsided by my own frailties. We all have them. I was just surprised, that for me, it came down to a single word. As I was humming along, moving from comment to comment, there it was. Beside a particularly heartfelt paragraph was a single word in the margin: “AWKWARD.”
I reread the scene, rolling the comment over in my head, and finally off my tongue. And then I did the thing that a writer should never do when they are looking at a critique of their work. I applied my own connotation to the word. We all know that different words have different meanings depending on our experiences. As a writer, I considered myself above that.
That is, until I read that one little word. Awkward. What did that even mean? The point is not what it meant. It’s what it meant to me. To me, awkward is something I avoid at all costs. To me, awkward is not a direction; it’s a feeling. And with one stroke of a pen, my editor unwittingly found my Achilles’ heel.
Suddenly, the sentence wasn’t awkward. The scene wasn’t awkward. The entirety of my book was awkward.
In my detailed summary, I was given a healthy dose of constructive criticism, along with direction to change things that I felt strongly about, but nothing hit me as hard as that one little word.
When I finally gathered the courage, or the calm, I contacted my editor. In response to my question, she replied very matter of factly. “Yeah, that sentence structure doesn’t quite flow. Just reword it.”
I won’t bore you with the back and forth that ensued. In the end, it came down to this: I learned a very valuable lesson about the power that words have over all of us. Writers and readers alike. And my editor learned that one of her clients was in fact certifiable at times.
No matter how good I think I have become at handling the day-to-day necessities of honing my craft, I am still learning. And if I want to grow as a writer, I will continue to learn everyday.
I never studied writing in college. I studied business. My daughter, on the other hand, has taken many writing classes. When I asked for her opinion, she studied the sentence in question and looked at me without a trace of emotion.
“Yeah, it’s awkward. Move the last part of the sentence to the front.” With that, she sat on the couch and dug into her pumpkin pie.
Thoroughly humbled, I slunk back to my computer and dove into the process of revising my novel.