Sunday, July 15, 2012

Smooth and balky writing

I've been working on a chapter for quite a while now and blew past my self-imposed deadline for it a couple of weeks ago. The substance of the chapter is there, but some of the rationales have been rewritten many, many times. Everything I write seems either blindingly obvious or too inside baseball for the chapter.

And the writing is balky. I know that only horses or animate things can be balky, but this writing is animate, I swear. The sentences lose themselves in a trail of bad writing practices--long "way in which" clauses and nominalizations and passive voice and compound predicates where a single verb would do.  Sentences like "the ways in which the couch is red are as follows"--stuff that sends the reader running for the exit--are like massive balky gatekeepers preventing the reader from getting to what are the really interesting parts.

I rewrite and prune them back, but there they are again in a different form, growing like that plant from Little Shop of Horrors. Since I've worked on this for so long, I started wondering if maybe I'd lost the ability to write graceful or lively prose. I feel like the father in the Laocoon getting overwhelmed by snakes.


But then I had to complete some minor edits on an accepted piece. The prose in there was much better, and to put to rest my worries, the new sentences I wrote were more smooth and lively. The piece didn't fight me. It didn't balk.

So the good news is that I can still do this kind of writing, if I have to. The bad news is that, even with a balky piece, I have to.

4 comments:

moria said...

This post in any case is smooth – and hilarious, and bizarrely affirming. As I sit here with my own alternately limp and overwritten draft, wondering when I forgot how to be a stylist. You've got it: snakes. Snakes.

Dr. Koshary said...

Undine - 1

Balky, unruly sentences - 0

As it should be.

Z said...

Hey, look at Cockburn's writing room, all windows in the country, and its furniture: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/289570-1

undine said...

moria--Thank you!

Dr. Koshary--I hope to keep that score.