I'm a word freak. I'm actually a lot of kinds of things freak - color freak, tennis freak, all things dachshund and min pin freak. So I picked the right line of work, I guess. But words are so much more complicated than the inner workings of a yappy little dog's brain. In my (ask my friends) never humble opinion, I believe they're more complicated than color, even. And that's saying a lot. If you could see the sea of oil pastels spread across my drawing table, you'd be convinced that indeed, that IS saying a lot.
Words are just so versatile. They can be combined to create the time honored works of Steinbeck and Jackie Collins. They can make up the screenplays of such classic movies as Citizen Kane and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Think about it. All these creations probably share more words than not. Right?
And it has been words - scads of them -that have taken over my life just about full time for months now. Some of them have been barfed onto the page in the first draft process of a new novel. Barfing words is fun. You're just ralphing it all out there to see the final sloppy big picture. Wow, I just grossed myself out. Ick.
And then, I've been revising another novel as well. That's where the versatility of language really starts to come in. This is where the clean-up crew (you) disinfects all the ick you produced in that first draft. Every single word has to be the right one for that space. Every single word has to be there for a reason. If there is any barf left, it better be absolutely necessary to your story. Okay, I'll stop with the up-chuck analogies.
I've also been working on a couple of picture books. Here's where the spotlight of scrutiny hits your writing hard. In a work usually under 500 words, there ain't no hiding of no clunkers. Every word has to compete to chosen as the ONLY word in the universe that deserves to be in that particular sentence. I like to think of them in little arenas, fighting to the death, bloodthirsty crowd egging them on... Whoa, maybe I should go back to thinking about barf or what my dad used to call "laughing at the ground".
For example, this week I had to come up with several words that could tastefully stand in for "derriere". Okay, maybe not tasteful, but the ONLY possible words that could add the something needed for that particular story. A thesaurus is great, fabulous, fantastic, splendid, but it can only take you so far. You're still the one that has to figure out the order and placement of every single one of those words. But if you're a word freak, then you're in Heaven. Yay! Word Heaven!
Being a tennis freak, though, is another matter. There, the word "freak" takes on a slightly different meaning than what I've been talking about. Whiffed overheads, balls hit long or wide, inventive oaths on the court, wardrobe malfunctions... But I'm sure my coach and team would agree. The word "freak" is still the ONLY one in the universe that fits.