A Novel Observed #9 – Trying to Find the Right Words

The Writing Stage

The Writing Stage

In the first chapter, I found it hard to get started. In the second, I kept struggling to find the right words. So, it looks like this is way these posts are going to shape up during this first draft: tackling one of the main difficulties I faced in writing each chapter.

If you’d like to read through the fist draft of chapter 2, it’s here. I titled it ‘Pheasant Pie’.

Several times, while writing these 2.5K words, I found myself tripping up over a word or phrase. I had a sense of what I wanted to say, but just couldn’t seem to tease the exact term out of my head and onto the page. For example, when Virginia offers Sebastian a piece of pheasant pie and he glances down twice at his watch to see what time it is, I just couldn’t find the word I wanted to use to describe him reading the time. In the end, I went with:

Sebastian checked his watch, upset to find it smeared with dirt. Having failed to take in the time, he glanced at it again. It was almost one in the morning.

But ‘take in’ is definitely not the word I was after. For starters it’s two words! I ended up sitting here for about 20 minutes, wracking my brain and thumbing through the thesaurus, without success. I still don’t know what the word is – I only have a ‘sense’ of what I’m after.

This wouldn’t be an issue if it was the only time this happened, but I must have found myself in this situation six or seven times during the chapter, and twice I decided to walk away and do something else, hoping I would come back and find the word ready and waiting for me.

It didn’t work.

Instead, the only way to deal with this problem is to write down something closely approximating the word (‘take in’ in the above example) and keep going.

Again, this is what the first draft is all about – getting the raw ingredients down on the page, so we can work it into shape in the second, third and fourth drafts. Oh yes, didn’t I mention that already? We’re going to have four drafts. They progress as follows:

  • Draft 1 is about getting the raw ingredients down on the page
  • Draft 2 is where the main shaping takes place, sentence by sentence, ironing out grammar, playing with word choice, kicking the plot around and such like
  • Draft 3 is the ‘read through’, where I read the whole book out loud to make sure the language flows
  • Draft 4 is the really the work of  the proofreader and should result in a final manuscript for publishing

So, when writing the first draft, getting the perfect word or turn of phrase is not essential. What is far more important is just getting something onto the page.


After all that, I’ve just found the word I was looking for: Establish.

One comment on “A Novel Observed #9 – Trying to Find the Right Words
  1. Phil says:

    “Digest” is an even better one!! 🙂