Saturday, 5 November 2011

Battling the Crutchword Curse

It's one of those things we do without thinking. Awkward silences bring forth um's and ah's, followed by crutchwords that pepper everyday conversations in an effort to fill the gaps in our vocabulary. My pet crutchwords tend to revolve around connectors relating to time - 'after a moment', 'then', 'and then'...

But, yes, I'm sure my use of crutchwords spans a wider range than this in reality:)

Unfortunately, writing - like speech - is often infected by this very same malady: the curse of the crutchwords.

Hmmmm, 'curse'. Strong word, that. But they really are a bit of a curse, aren't they? I mean, though crutchwords oil the wheels (a bit like comfort food ha), they always seem to result in lazy dialogue. Especially on paper.

Crutchwords can make a passage turn boring in the blink of an eye. The same words repeated every so often is the perfect recipe for stale writing.

Stale writing... Every writer shudders at the thought.

The thing is, writing - good writing - is crafted. It's really not everyday dialogue.

Even though the first few drafts of a work might feel like an ordinary conversation, depicting plot, character and voice on paper is very much a conscious task. Whether in terms of word choice, emotive limits, or any number of a million little things that make us tweak and jab, worry and erase, write and write and write - writing is so blatantly a craft.

Crafting involves shaping, exploring - sometimes breaking boundaries - but consciously so. In this conscious effort to craft however, a scene in one's head, so beautifully created and held, can be diluted painfully in translation.

Words used to compose the picture of one's story - the 'right', most accurate, words - are often woefully absent in one's mind just when you need them the most.

The writing process can then become one of desperation (for some) in balancing perception with execution.

This is the moment when most writers find themselves relying on crutchwords. They get you through difficult passages before you forget important elements of your mental image; you get at least the basics of your imaginative vision down before it's gone forever.

So, why worry about crutchwords at all? They seem to be a pretty serviceable tool, hmmm? Why are they such a plague in writerly minds?

The problem is, many writers aren't aware they're using crutchwords. I know I'm not. I definitely can't sieve them out of my work right from the beginning, not when my piece is still being formed, still being grown and layered in my mind. Even after a first draft is written, obvious deficiencies can easily escape me.

Maybe my imagination is still brilliant at this point with the image I've tried to depict. Unlike a first time reader of the story, maybe I'm engaged too strongly in the imaginative world underlying the story to detect its obvious flaws.

I guess that's why perfecting and re-perfecting the drafts of a work is so important to writers like me. The need to redraft often, polish often, is perhaps a need that will diminish in intensity the more experienced one is at the craft of writing. But until one reaches that 'higher' level of experience, it's probably beneficial to let a piece of writing - like wine - breathe before you visit it once more.

What I know for certain is, leaving my writing untouched for a week at least almost always guarantees me seeing it with new eyes. At this point, I can easily spot crutchwords that would have been invisible to me before.

Hmmm, how shall I conclude this post? I started out by seeing crutchwords as a curse, something which makes a writer's masterpiece flawed and terrifyingly monotonous. But I think that's only half the story.

After all, crutchwords don't pretend to be anything they're not, do they? ... Just a shoulder to happily lean on until one's writing legs have worked out their kinks.

I suppose, at their most basic level, crutchwords are merely a symptom of a larger problem: unpolished writing.

But, you know, the great thing about recognising the symptoms of a problem is, it becomes so much more solve-able than when you didn't know it existed:)

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