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Monday, June 6, 2011

profusion, word



this we know: as writers, our craft depends largely on our ability to harness an authentic voice, the part of ourselves that is real and genuine and sincere. this we also know: as writers, our craft depends largely on our ability to harness an authentic relationship with the reader, a real and genuine and sincere connection with the audience. this paradox is at the heart of what makes writing and reading so interconnected, so circular--and, yes, so maddening. professionals in this field, then, are those scribes among us who've mastered "writing like a reader," and "reading like a writer." one (mundane but useful) way writers accomplish this art is by scanning their work for something i call "word profusion," that is, the overuse (usually unintentional) of a given word in a sentence or paragraph.

here's a real-world example (from a text we've previously looked at, though for different reasons).

"In 1900, Josiah Flynt Willard, writer, amateur sociologist, and sometime hobo, published Notes of an Itinerant Policeman. In the book, he describes the often-unsavory world of fin de si├Ęcle American tramps: their begging strategies, their caste systems and codes, their hot tempers and underdeveloped intellects, their reasons for becoming tramps in the first place (number one: liquor). One of the book’s more compelling chapters is entitled What Tramps Read. This is one facet of tramp life one might not immediately think of, but its inclusion in the book makes a lot of sense." (emphasis mine.)

so the writing here is beautiful, clear, linear. just one problem, though: an over-reliance on the word "one." to be fair, however, the writer does use the word "one" in a couple different ways, so that mitigates the profusion (though it's still a tad distracting).

for our purposes, let's think about how to replace a few of those "one's." here's what i'd do.

"[...] their reasons for becoming tramps in the first place (chief cause: liquor). One of the book’s more compelling chapters is entitled What Tramps Read. This is a facet of tramp life one might not immediately think of, but its inclusion in the book makes a lot of sense."

i didn't change the second "one" because its usage denotes "the reader," rather than (strictly speaking) a number.

by the way, i recommend only doing this sort of scan when you're near the publishing/sharing zone. peccadilloes such as these don't matter a wit when we are still in the drafting process. in fact, focusing on this sort of stuff while still in the early-to-middle stages will stifle your flow. it's like ironing a garment before its all been stitched together.

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