Surely you've heard that renowned Mark Twain aphorism: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." It's become a mantra for many writers, a call to focused creativity and compositional excellence, a pledge to rise above mundane prose.
I wonder just how many stories such a commitment has killed.
Don't get me wrong, I love excellent writing. I delight in phrases freighted with literary import, sentences stuffed with alliteration and allusions, all carefully constructed to yield maximum emotional impact. It's all good stuff. Such beauty can print you like a brand.
The problem lies in that such a standard is exceedingly difficult to meet, especially right out of the gate. For those who (like myself) desire to find it, discovering the right word can feel like a stumbling block or an millstone tied around your neck, a barrier to writing rather than an incentive. I can't tell you how many times I've stared at a half-finished page, willing the perfect turn of phrase to come and walking away in a huff when it didn't.
The solution? Well, I've stopped aiming for the right word -- at least at first. Let my early drafts (and perhaps even some of the latter ones) be embarrassingly sloppy. At least I have them. Some say that good is enemy of the best, but I say sometimes the best is enemy to anything at all.
(Picture: CC 2006 by art farmer)