The right damn word. . .argh

I was writing yesterday. I’m working on the first chapters of a brand new book, which means that I’m laying out all the new terms. As so often happens, I know what the stuff is, but not yet what to call it. So, when I got to the first actual use of a particular new word, I dropped in a (placeholder) and kept moving. No big deal, I’ve done this many times and I know I’ll come back to it.

Then as I’m writing another scene, I realize that this scene has implications for something I’d done earlier and that I’m going to have to change that scene because of the new stuff. Again, no big deal, this happens all the time. But when I go back and look at the scene, I realize it means changing what I think was pretty tight little paragraph and coming up with the right word*. So, (placeholder).

*the right word—a digression. For me, the right word is not to be confused with what I will call the perfect word. The perfect word is one of those things that writers, with their invariably huge vocabularies, know exists to perfectly describe the thing in question. Usually it’s a polysyllabic monstrosity of the 25 cent to 50 cent variety that makes you smile when you think of it. It also all too often ruins the flow and the voice, and should probably be tossed seconds after it occurs. The right word, on the other hand, is usually only a nickel word, and it’s appropriate to the character’s voice, the setting, and the situation—easy to find, right?

Anyway, I now have two placeholders and 2,000 shiny new words done on the book. Laura comes home, reads the new stuff, makes appropriate happy noises, and reminds me we have a faculty thing. (It was lovely by the way, soup and fresh bread with the English department folks–we seem to spend a lot more time with them than with Laura’s own Physics people) Social obligations pleasantly fulfilled, we return home, do some reading and head for bed.

That’s when the placeholders creep out of their spots and start whispering in my ear about things unfinished and how important they are. I ignore them, pick up Ellen Kushner’s Privilege of the Sword, and try reading a bit more. This only makes things worse.

So, almost three hours after Laura has gone to sleep, I crawl out of bed and bang my forehead on the keyboard for twenty minutes until I’ve got something better than placeholders. I’m really happy with one and will probably keep it throughout, but the other turned into a multi-word sensory flow thing that may yet have to go. We’ll see.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Sept 8th 2006. Reposted as part of the reblogging project )

The original post also included these questions, but, as I’ve elected not to enable comments at, I’m separating them out below and people’s answers can be found at the Wyrdsmiths version:

So, do you find yourself dragged out of happy sleep by words whispering themselves incomprehensibly (it’s always incomprehensible otherwise, you could just jot them down and be done) into your ears? Oh and that’s metaphorical, of course, I don’t actually hear voices;-) What writing problems invade your dreams or prevent them?