Friday, 4 February 2011


By Richard Jay Parker

I spend a lot of my writing life in awe of the breadth and majesty of the English language. Occasionally, however, it seems woefully inadequate.

I'm talking about those writing days when you're pootling along and feeling very satisfied with the rate of work you're getting done before running into a word that doesn't quite sit right in a sentence. One which you initially assume will be easily replaced.

With such a rich vocabluary to choose from there must be an appropriate substitute which will convey the moment or thought you're trying to portray, one that doesn't scag your eye when you're reading it again.

For me this usually occurs during editing - a process I mostly enjoy. The whole project is flowing but there's that word again - the one I've changed a dozen times and still isn't cutting the mustard.

It's a good idea for me to retreat for a while, come back to it later but I find it difficult to move on when I've notched up hundreds of satisfactory pages and such an outwardly simple word is holding the rest of my work to ransom.

It's then I come up with lots of words - none of them helpful or relevant - and all of them very familiar in times of creative frustration. A few more choice ones when I look at the clock and find that the word has gobbled up another hour.

Maybe it's just me but I can never type in an alternative and think 'that'll do.'

After the thesaurus has been significantly spanked the real solution is usually to change the entire sentence or passage, open it up or come at it from a different angle. But by this time you've read it so many times that it's difficult to know if the alternative is working or not. Assessing it after time away and with a fresh eye is usually the best policy.

Yes, you've guessed, I'm in the middle of that very process at the moment and it can be so damn frustrating/sickening/maddening - oh, take your pick.


  1. There's always one word, one phrase, one sentence that bugs me. I only really stop when I hear the words "we're going to print tomorrow". Without my publisher's deadlines I'd probably never finish rewriting.

  2. Been there, suffered through it, came to the same conclusion: the best solution is to "work around" the word or simply to toss it and write a different passage. But to just fill in the sentence puzzle with any similar word will cut it as little as taking a knife to carve out a piece in order to fit a picture puzzle.

  3. Glad I'm not alone, Leigh. Does it still rankle when you read it in the printed article?

    Thanks, Kevin. Yes - every word is important and there's no limit on how long you should agonise over each one.