Words versus Story

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I do not have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)! <== Denial – not just a river in Egypt.

First draft: I had a girlfriend in college who, I’m sure, had OCD because[.] [S]she had all the symptoms this shrink dude listed on the board during a his lecture.

Second draft: I had a girlfriend who, I’m sure, had OCD. She had all the symptoms that a psychologist listed during a lecture.

Third draft: I once had a girlfriend who had OCD for sure. When we were dating I happened to hear a psychologist lecturing on [obsessive compulsive disorder.]the subject, and Hhe listed a half a dozen quirks that this girls carried around with her had. It was something of a revelation to me.

At this point I realize I’m focusing on words and not on story, so I get frustrated and something like this happens…

Fourth draft: I once had this girlfriend who drove me abso-blumin-lutely crazy with her antics. She couldn’t make decisions, she talked like as if she‘d could never [were incapable of] hurt[ing] a flea – always in this sing-songy voice that I was dumb enough to believe[d] – until the first time she [finally] exploded at me. After that, we fought every day over the smallest, stupidest little things. I‘d had never met anyone like her [in my life], but when this [a] psychiatrist came [happened to come] through and lectured our [my] class on OCD, I finally [immediately] understood [her] this girl. She had it all. E [e]very symptom on his the doc’s list[.] [It] sounded like as if he’d also dated her the girl.

See! Not a touch of OCD.

The big problem, even after I realize I’m getting bogged down with word editing and I’ve made a brand new (fourth) attempt to focus on the story rather than the words, I still wind up “word editing.”

Worshiping the words and neglecting the ideas, the content, the way the thing feels, the kind of person that seems to have written it (the voice)… this is my greatest sin as a fiction writer.

When my wife reads my stories, she says that she has to keep going back and re-reading awkward sentences.  OK, she doesn’t say “awkward,” but we know.

My daughter says, “You know how you always say that good lyrics shouldn’t be too concrete?  Well, it seems like you’re sort of writing that way in your stories… like you’re writing lyrics.”

So I write myself notes saying, “DO NOT EDIT TODAY!!!

And I write posts like this one, saying that you might want to learn from my bad example.

I really try.

Recently I was listening to an interview of some elite professor talking about literary fiction. He said, ahem, “one can teach a person anything” about writing fiction except “the voice.”  He said that writers are born with or without “the voice.”

I’m rolling my eyes.

“The voice” is the holy grail of writers who give up on themselves and the hard work of writing a meaningful page-turner.

But after sounding like a typical university elitist for most of the interview, the professor said something interesting. Basically this…

“As great writers develop, their writing style becomes simpler, less flowery, less filled with fancy verbs and clever twists of phrase.”

To me, this implies less self-consciousness. These great writers became more comfortable with themselves as their writing progressed from great to greater.

So why not start your writing career with simple sentences that don’t draw attention to themselves? Why not use verbs that come naturally to you? Why not give clever twists of phrase the same meager attention they get in your normal conversation?

I can imagine that if my own fiction were to improve, it would become easier to read because the sentence structure would be more natural, less self-conscious, less wanna-be clever and even further from poetic.

My stories would not be “well written” in the judgement of elites. But I’d be fine with that if only my wife and daughter sat spellbound from start to finish.

M. Talmage Moorehead