Words are at a premium around here. When I've had a particularly grueling writing session, where characters fall apart, fall in love or fall over a cliff, my tongue feels like it's attached to a frozen pole in brain-land. Even my cat's name escapes me. Why is that? Is there a finite number of words available to us in a twenty-four hour span? Granted, women bankroll more in a day than men, but at some point, I simply run out. Every three or four words, my train of thought sizzles apart.
"You're tired," you say. "Take a day off. Tomorrow the well will be full."
I can't be sure. At a project's end, the mind is parched.
The thought of not finding word perfection when I need it is disconcerting. When I re-read a scene back at page 49 and the words weave a perfect tapestry, when I can't even remember writing it, I fear those words floated to the well's surface and what's left beneath at page 300 is muck and the acrid taste of a writer who's grown weary.
At moments like these, the only thing I know is to pick up a novel. Something amazing and revered and of the highest caliber, and gorge myself on the words. A literary feast of nouns and verbs I haven't laid eyes on in awhile. Old friends I hope will become close enough to sneak into my own story in a moment I least suspect. They can be simple and occupy the Neighborhood of Make-Believe from thirty years ago. They can be as dense and mysterious as a NY Times Crossword, but they must be there for me when I need them.
As I write this, I'm reaching for the American Heritage Dictionary. A quick academic fix. The book falls open, at letter I: incite and incoherent. One I've used in my current novel, one is the perfect description for every utterance from my lips today. Does this mean these two formidable words are lost to me? Spent away because they've come and gone? Are words just currency we try to hoard but overspend when we've used more than our share on the page?
Words are the inception for writers. So why, at at a book's end, do we feel we've exhausted every last one? Abused some to the point they'll never return? Convinced the perfect ones they couldn't possibly rise to the surface like the ones who came before?
"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter - 'tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." ~ Mark Twain
Someone else adores this quote like I do and has started a website devoted to helping young writers.
Here are some other thoughts about words:
"A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live
"A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought, and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used."~Oliver Wendell Holmes
"For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word." ~Catherine Drinker Bowen
"If you would be pungent, be brief; for it is with words as with sunbeams--the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn." ~Robert Southey