Speaking of terrible first efforts … yes, one does have to start somewhere when wanting to write something.
But – many times, unfortunately, when I entertain the thought of journaling (or, hopefully, writing something more sophisticated, so to speak), I end up not writing about the deluge of thoughts in my head because they appear to be endless and virtually unmanageable to me. There are countless nuances, conflicting perspectives, anachronistic moments related in certain ways but not others, myriad sensations of varying flavors and intensities, heightened shivers and quivers I believe I will be unable to shape into words, …
Do you see my dilemma?
I do not feel exactly as though my problem is that I lack the set of vocabulary necessary to explain myself, as I would to describe the various details pertaining to the texture, taste, and so on of a food product as food tasters do. I simply become so enchanted (and somewhat pleasantly overwhelmed) by the experiences I wish to document or the thoughts that I wish to transcribe that I end up – as my friend’s therapist used to say – “mindfucking myself into paralysis.”
It occurred to me to record myself talking it out. Then it occurred to me that I’d never get around to transcribing the recording because it would be too tedious and I’d lack sufficient motivation.
Is it a shame? Or is the experience itself, in real time and later in fading memories, enough, or even worth more than anything words could possibly convey?
I suppose it would depend on whom you ask.
But listen: how exactly is one supposed to verbally depict mind-blowing multiple and shared orgasms and the connection felt and built with someone you are beginning to fall for? The intense mutual gazing into each other’s eyes while you caress each other, tickling, causing shivers, quick smirks lasting milliseconds, childlike giggling, a lover playing with your hair, a warm pink glow on satiated cheeks, plump seductive lips, dark and soft stubble, adorable dimples, an electrical pulse through the middle of your torso that reemerges every time you replay that one instance…?
I can’t do it.
And, listen, I’ve read erotica and overwrought Victorian novels and I can confidently tell you that it cannot be done. Nothing you can write will compare to what one feels in a moment like the one I just described. There is no way to transform sensations and feelings accurately into words – you can’t even write them so they will simultaneously coexist, because writing and reading are linear processes, and there is thus no way to transmit all coexisting experiences together, in their full intensity, uniqueness, sheen, magic (or a less hackneyed word).
Writing, alas, is a terribly limited and limiting art, system, and process. Verbal language cannot compare to that of the body and soul. As a writer, this is something I lament.
If anyone believes she/he can prove me wrong, I welcome your efforts!
An old favorite, this essay originally appeared as a guest post on Pro Writing Tips.
Language, copyediting, and tips for honing your copyediting skills
I love language for several reasons: double entendres, its delicate and potentially brutal beauty, its occasional dive into the abyss of the ineffable, and its unconscious power.
We absorb outward reality—life—through language; it shapes our perceptions. For instance, most insults in the English language (and the Spanish language, among others) make disproportionate use of female gender and non-human animal designations, e.g. throw like a girl, SOB (note the B), he’s a dog, and the litany of your momma jokes. I wonder why a non-human animal as precious as a dog is used to insult a human, why there are no your pappa jokes, and why men aren’t told to get back to the garage like women are told to get back to the kitchen (which would be awful, too).
The obvious answer is that we live in a sexist and speciesist society—but I won’t go into that.
My point is that these terms, the words that we use to communicate with each other and describe the world around us, do influence the way that we see and treat each other and our surroundings. Humans have been penetrating and raping nature for centuries, violating it, and now our ecosystems are on the brink of collapse. Women are second class citizens in this world, and don’t even get me started on non-humans and other minorities. The power of language is not to be underestimated.
Words are weapons, not innocuous tools with which to craft one-dimensional “roses are red” poems. Language can neither be objective nor exist in a vacuum; it is dialogic: texts exist in and are affected by the culture system that encompasses them, including previously written works. Additionally, each reader will perceive content through her or his own mental filter, altering the text’s meaning even further. Words are, then, to be respected and employed with caution.
This is where copyediting (and, of course, writing) gets interesting. It becomes a multidimensional, unwittingly influential feat of taking over the world. Okay, not really. But a single word can, indeed, change everything. We copyeditors are trusted with a creator’s thoughts and get to manipulate them to our heart’s content. It is thus a grand job that we undertake, a privilege. I appreciate and take pride in it.
Throughout my years as a copyeditor, I have discovered tactics to help me sharpen my skills and increase my productivity. Here they are:
- Write and copyedit yourself. Then, have a painstaking grammar geek (maybe a copyeditor you look up to) correct your work so you can learn from your mistakes.
- Scrutinize books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, shampoo bottles in the bath—anything and everything you can get your hands on. Take notes and, if you aren’t sure, check them against a style guide or dictionary. Be vicious!
- Visualize words to help you remember their spelling.
- Visualize and punctuate conversations and songs in your head.
- Use a thesaurus—and always check your word choice in the dictionary before plugging it into your text.
- If you get a chance, take a short, mind cleansing break after copyediting a lengthy or abstruse text, and give it one last look-over before turning it in.
- Keep it tight.
- Stick to the active voice whenever possible.
- Share your wisdom: if you know writers who are receptive to feedback, give it to them, especially if you are the one to edit their work. Not only will you be helping out a colleague, but you will also, hopefully, not have to correct the same mistakes time and time again anymore.
- Give out copies of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (or whichever guide is most appropriate) for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa and birthdays to lighten your workload.
The most important thing, however, is to enjoy the process. No matter how advanced your skills may be, there will always be more to learn. And this is good news! It means that there is no such thing as perfection—and if there were, our lives would surely be very boring. So be thorough, but patient; offer constructive criticism (to yourself, too); nurture your skills and others’. And have fun! Because if you don’t have fun, what’s the point?