I conquered a project today. Finally. What started as a simple editing project turned into a major rewrite.
Instead of smoothing language, I found myself gutting whole sections and researching and writing new material. The deadline hadn’t changed, but the scope of my task kept expanding and I found myself wondering if there was any hope of getting the piece into shape by the deadline.
Then it happened. I finished writing a section and, in an instant, the sense that the project was now under control snapped into place. Sure, there were still citations to format and table numbers to sequence. But the beast was tamed. The content that needed to be added would fit into the framework I’d created and the work remaining could be completed by the deadline. In the struggle to shape this piece into something solid and actionable for reader, I had won.
That got me thinking about how often the words we use to describe writing and editing are physical, tactile. Take the phrase “break the back,” for example. Although I couldn’t find a good explanation of its origin, it’s easy to observe: just watch a terrier subduing a toy.
A friend regularly scouts garage sales for cheap stuffed toys. She takes them home to her dog, Ruthie the Rat Terrier. Ruthie pounces on the toy, grabs it in her mouth and shakes it to break its neck, then methodically scrapes her paw down the stomach to disembowel it. The result: polyester stuffing strewn everywhere and a terrier with head and tail held high because she’s conquered yet another wretched rat.
How does writing or editing feel to you? Do you gently shape an emerging idea, strip a thought to its essentials, or hack away at verbose language?