When I write, I will sometimes stumble upon some witty alliteration or turn of the phrase, and I will stop and taste the words. Like popping a bottle of wine, I’ll sniff the cork and swirl the glass and sip it slowly and let it settle in my mouth. Then I will think myself clever, and read it over again and again, smiling and nodding at my own clueful brilliance. But eventually sanity kicks in, and I will think myself silly.
When I write, I sometimes feel like I am trying to capture a thought too big for my brain. Because writing is not about writing, but about ideas, in the same way that painting is not about painting, but about how to get the picture in your head to appear on the canvas. Words are like dollops of oil on a painter’s palette. They are colorful and pretty, but they don’t say anything until Van Gogh turns it into the idea of an iris.
When I write, I fancy myself a poet, with a dark beret and a poofy shirt, waving a feathered pen and waxing eloquent illocutions to a mesmerized audience. But what I write sounds more a short-order cook slopping hash in an all-night diner.
When I write, I try to find the right word. I think it goes back to when I was a teenager, and I fell in love with my dog-eared Roget’s Thesaurus. I realize now how peculiar that sounds, a fourteen year old boy pouring through page after page of synonyms like other boys poured through their bootlegged Playboy magazines. Maybe it was the sound of the words, or the nuance of shaded meaning that each different word implied, or the way they fit so perfectly together like chains of Legos. You might say I was being punctilious or pedantic or persnickety.
When I write, I always assume that I will re-write. And that takes the pressure off of myself to write it perfectly the first time. James Michener was once purported to have said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”
When I write, I ponder a lot. Which is ironic, because the act of pondering is by nature non-linear, and the sentences we use to express said pondering. Are. Completely. Linear.
When I write, I always use hyperbole. But not as much as metaphors, which put butterflies in my stomach, cobwebs in my mind, clouds in my coffee, and flies in the ointment. Similes, in contrast, are like a cheap perfume in a dime store display—they smell good behind the glass, but on a woman, it’s like someone else’s Aunt Gertrude. And alliterative similes are like long languid locomotive locutions of lasting lackadaisy. Rhyming is like chiming, with some miming set to a certain timing. Love rhymes with above, and you can add that to blue which rhymes with you. But if you don’t disguise the rhyme in some sort of metric ruse, you will end up sounding like a two-bit Dr. Seuss.
When I write, I wonder who the heck actually reads this stuff.
[Update: This blog was reprinted in Inside Pages, a blog on Faith, Publishing, and Literary Culture. Check it out!]