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Journal of a novel: Aug. 11, 2016. Word choice

August 11, 2016

In a series of posts, I’ll share both Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel and what I learn from it, and I’ll show you what the writing life is like for me.

In his Feb. 20 Journal of a Novel entry, John Steinbeck remarks

I am enjoying this work and I truly want it to be the best I have ever done. There is no reason why it should not have the stature I want. I can hear that in my ears and see it with my eyes and there is no reason why my pencil should not write it.

Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? I often feel as though I have a clear idea of what I want to write. I can see the scene, hear it, smell it … but can I find the right words so that you, the reader, can see/hear/smell what I do?

Steinbeck cautions himself not to let his writing “ever be adjectivally descriptive. I must hold description to an absolute minimum.” We writers do strive to find the one perfect word to communicate our vision. Perhaps that’s why at first Steinbeck got one page written a day. One single page. In this journal entry he states that he wants to boost his output to two pages.

I wonder, though. My novels began as National Novel Writing Month projects, where I had the goal of writing 1667 words a day. The NaNoWriMo process encourages us to throw every word that comes into our head onto the page. The idea is to adopt a pace that prohibits one’s Inner Editor from judging every word and possibly keeping us from writing anything at all. It’s a great way to avoid double-thinking oneself into writer’s block. Of course, not every one of those words is going to make the final cut. However I found myself wondering if doing a brain dump followed by lots and lots of editing produces writing that’s different from belaboring every word before setting it down.


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