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.
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.
Undine - 1
Balky, unruly sentences - 0
As it should be.
Hey, look at Cockburn's writing room, all windows in the country, and its furniture: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/289570-1
Dr. Koshary--I hope to keep that score.
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