Word Smithery (Day #9)

I do things fast.

Almost everything, in fact. I eat fast. I drive fast. I read fast. Right now, I’m typing fast.

Faster faster faster. Hurry hurry hurry. Don’t slow down, don’t let up. Go go go.

No wonder I’m worn out.

There is, however, something that even I can’t whiz through. I know because I’ve tried.

Word hunt.

No, I’m not talking about the game where you look for words in rows and columns of letters. I’m talking about the search for a particular word. The right word, to be used at precisely the right moment.

(For example, right now I am looking for a word to describe the particular sort of brain fatigue that comes from spending a night awake listening to your inconsolable baby girl moan and whimper. Whatever the word, this mental state is not conducive to a fruitful word hunt. Which is why this post about word hunts is taking an inordinate amount of time to write.)

It is a fact: my obsession with word smithery (yes, that’s a word! My new favorite word, in fact) slows me down. It might make me a better writer, but it doesn’t make me an especially productive one – especially in the first draft stage.

But it’s a hard habit to break. I want to be able to just pick a word, any word, and move on, save the tweaking and fine tuning for later. Or, in the case of this blog, just abandon the perfect word standard in favor of the merely appropriate. This word will do, I wish I could say (and mean it). It’s not the best word for the job, but it’ll get it done.

Then again, even if I could force myself to settle for the imperfect word in my own writing, I doubt I’d be able to accept it in other people’s writing. You see, word obsession is really just word snobery. We can disguise it, act like it’s just another form of perfectionism or control freakishness (both acceptable traits in writerly types), but I think it’s more than that. I think we word smiths harbor the belief that word precision is an indices of a person’s worth – that the word adroit deserve to be heard while the word inept … well, they’re better off ignored.

Ick. That idea gives me the eebie jeebies. (The eebie jeebies. Another delicious phrase).

So where does that leave me? Behind schedule in my writing, less productive than I want to be, and, worst of all, deaf. Deaf to the inarticulate voices, some of which I desperately need to hear.

And so. Today I let go of my word smithery, if just for the day (baby steps). Today I embrace its gentler cousin, whose name I do not know and will not spend the time to create (lookie there! progress already!) Because no matter how much I relish and delight in them, words are just words. And the perfect word? It’s only as valuable as the idea it’s used to express.


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