Mea Culpa

You know what I did?  Yesterday I sort of rewrote that short story… but I didn’t.  I just substituted words I thought didn’t work with words I thought worked better.  My thesaurus was beside me and I was basically cutting and pasting my way through the thing.

It doesn’t work like that.

Most of the people who commented on that draft said they liked the first one better, even though the first one had prompted the changes I made.  The difference between the two?  The first one was written straight out from my head, and the second one was made up of direct quotations from a thesaurus.

First of all, this goes to show that you can’t tweak your way through anything.  If you want to refine the language in a single sentence, yes, you can do that.  If you want to change the entire tone of three hundred words, you have to rewrite.

My problem yesterday was the fact that I went through slowly, finding better words for what I was trying to say.  That doesn’t work, as I just said.  The words still have to sound natural– though they’re big and fancy and make me feel like a parodist of Brian Jacques, they still have to originate in my head.  I can’t just sit there thumbing through my thesaurus saying, “Ooh, this word sounds cool!  I don’t know how to pronounce it, but I’ll figure out how to stick it in a sentence or two!”

I made my mistake by sounding artificial where I needed to sound natural.  All writing must sound natural– if the reader can tell exactly how many edits it took to get it to a certain point, that’s a problem.

The first draft was written in ten minutes, in a hotel room.  The second draft took slightly less than an hour and put ten years on my thesaurus.  It’s thinking about Botox already.

I want to apologize to all the people who gave critiques to both drafts.  I think I complained unduly about the reaction to the second draft, since it seemed to me that everyone agreed I should do one thing to the first draft and then hurriedly backpedaled when I overdid it.  I’m sorry– it was completely my fault.  I sort of understood what you said, but then I took it so far that I’m sure, if you had the chance, you’d deny ever having said it.

But I’ve got a recording of you saying it.  There’s no backing out.

Right now, I feel like a baby who learned to walk yesterday, blindfolded, walking backwards on stilts across the Bridge of Khazad-Dum (and this is after Gandalf destroyed most of it).  There are so many things about writing I’m missing the point of, and I thank you all for helping me figure stuff out.

Anyway, thank you so much for critiquing the first and second drafts, and I’ll try to find a respectable balance between the two sides of natural writing and forced thesaurus-quoting.

Leave a comment


  1. Aye, though the Thesaurus is a lovely helper when you want to keep things from being monotonous, using big words where small ones would work best is a mistake I often make in my own writing. Keep it natural, but if you feel yourself repeating things or making them dull and boring, find Mr. Thesaurus and take a peek.

    …a recording? How does one record a comment? Oh. Copy and paste I suppose…

  2. Charley R

     /  September 8, 2012

    Just take it as a learning curve, mate. I used to do exactly the same thing, and now I re-read those things and just want to grind my face into a wall. Authenticity over forced intelligence is always better – though don’t be so hard on yourself. Some aspects of that second draft were very massive improvements, I’ll have you know.

    Also, if you want help over Khazad-Dum, my tame Nazgul and I are here to help. His name is Binky, and I’m sure he won’t mind playing safety net for you if you like.

  3. *reads* *applauds* See, this is what Christopher Paolini should do. I can totally see him writing a normal first draft and then dressing it up using the thesaurus. I’m glad that you realized that YOU should be writing, not a THESAURUS.

    This is why I’m still a good friend to you – sometimes you talk sense and aren’t entirely hopeless. xD

    • I think Christopher Paolini didn’t do too badly description-wise– his scenes were remarkably vivid for as young as he is. His style isn’t at fault– it’s his story and what he deems necessary for plot moving. (Him: ‘I wonder if Roran and Eragon killing everyone in sight is really moving the plot along… YES!’)

    • But then he proceeds to describe every death in way too much detail. -_- Why can’t Roran just find an atomic bomb somewhere and blow up all of Alagaesia? It sure would make the books shorter! 😀

  4. One time, I wrote a short story, and it was…okayish. Then a while later, I rewrote it, and I thought it was so much better. The flow of it was better, the description was better, and all of it. Then a reviewer read the first draft and commented on it, and I told her that I had recently rewrote it, and she basically told me, “Yeah, but I liked the first one better. The second one was lacking the emotion that the first one had.”

    And considering the story had a sad ending…that was bad.

    I felt so devastated, but I realized she was right. Somehow, and I don’t even know how or how to fix it, I had ruined all of the emotion in the second story, in favor of better words.


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