Photo Credit: Pexel
This dreadful obsession can wreck writing days, it can bring unwanted tension into your home and it can leave you questioning your sanity. Once it strikes there is no escape.
There are 5 stages to this terrible condition:
- Writer Radar. The small paragraph appears on your Writer Radar for the wrong reasons. You may have just written it or noticed it after a quick read through or spotted it during editing. Your first thought after reading it will be ‘ugh’ and this will be quickly followed by ‘did I really write that crap?’ It will be like a fly in your literary ointment. For those of us with highlighter issues this paragraph will receive our full attention; it will be highlighted in a bold colour, a couple of comments might be added or scribbled next to it, a post-it-note might be stuck to it and some of us might do all this and…circle it with a thick red pen just to make sure we don’t miss it.
- Edit Urge. You will get this powerful urge to edit this paragraph. It doesn’t sound right and it needs addressing. You were supposed to be writing the rest of your draft or carrying on with editing but you cannot tear yourself away from this badly written paragraph. You can’t just leave stuff like this alone; especially when your highlighting issues have got out of hand and the paragraph problem has been lit up in pretty colours on your page. In your head you run through the benefits of spending a little bit of time on it; making it sound good will impress your future reader, given that it’s a small paragraph the revision won’t take long (famous last words for any writer) and this is a great chance to flex your literary muscle. With a smile on your face you set about shortening it, lengthening it, moving sentences around, changing word order and adding in new words.
- Farewell Daily Life. The obsession with the paragraph takes hold of you. No matter what you do the paragraph doesn’t sound or look great. After reading the 56th revised version you still feel the need to reach for your highlighter pen and place it in a ring of ugly red pen. As the rest of your 85k word draft waits patiently on your desk, you carry on editing the hell out of your tiny paragraph. Important things like eating, washing, cleaning and interacting with other humans go out of the window as you do battle with 54 words. You rewrite it, break it up, join it back together, turn it inside out and chuck in some more adjectives for good measure. Loved ones try to coax you away from your editing but you don’t want to let it go.
- Paragraph Hell. You enter a form of literary hell as you become tormented by this one tiny paragraph. With gritted teeth you continue to make changes. Time passes slowly. Day turns into night. The paragraph is now drastically different to how it started life. Cue agitated phrases from you such as ‘I wish I could let little stuff go’ and ‘how important is Chapter Four to me and my readers?’ Loved ones will say things ‘why don’t you have a break from it and do something else?’ They will receive an eye roll and a look of suffering from you. You know that if you don’t fix this problem your readers will call it out on your Amazon book review. A shiver runs down your spine as you visualise the review which includes the line ‘this author didn’t do themselves any favours with that horrific paragraph in Chapter Four’.
- The End. You rub your tired eyes and stare glumly at your paragraph and then at the clock on the wall. You remind yourself of how long you have been editing the hell out of one small paragraph in Chapter Four – 7hrs and 53 minutes. After all that time it still isn’t right! In an angry fit of frustration you decide to end things once and for all. You delete your paragraph! In an instant you feel calm and relaxed again. The literary pain is over. You shuffle to bed feeling content and pleased that you have achieved something today. Your literary journey can carry on – now that annoying paragraph has gone! Sigh!
Please note: for the opening paragraph of your novel you might as well multiply the pain and suffering that I have noted above by a hundred. The obsession with editing the first paragraph of a book is much worse. I will cover this in a future post.
Have a great day all!