July 11

Obsessive Wordsmithing Disorder

I suspect that most of you lovely visitors, who come by every week, are writers. The problem with us writers is that we're so gosh darn insecure. We always seem to have this inward stream of thoughts:

Is my writing clear enough?


Do they get it?

Do I sound stupid?

Is this joke actually funny, or will they roll their eyes?

Lie? Lay? Lain? Laid?

And we would love to stumble upon something in the Interwebs that magically demystifies the writing process.

I have a radical idea for you.

Digital letters

Stop focusing so much on your own writing.

Say what? Yes, your fixation with your own writing may very well be a symptom of Obsessive Wordsmithing Disorder. Seriously, look it up in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).*

Obsessive Wordsmithing Disorder manifests itself with constant fretting over word choice, reading and re-reading your work to tweak this word or that word one just more time, refusing to send written work to a publisher because it's just not quite ready, and generally refusing to let anyone else read your written work for fear of criticism.

There's only one cure for OWD.

Offer to help others with their writing

Here's why:

1. You'll remove yourself from your own tunnel vision. The more we focus on our own problems, the bigger and more unsolvable they can become. The only way to remove yourself from tunnel vision is to look elsewhere.

2. Observe others' habits and, therefore, your own. When you see that someone else has a habit of including three adjectives or reasons or phrases together, you may realize that you have doing the same with only two adjectives, reasons, or phrases. When you go back to self-edit, you can more purposefully approach those pieces of habitual writing, to see if they're effective.

3. You may get ideas! Just like reading published books and articles, reading the prose of others could infuse your writing with new creative juice.

4. Advocate transparency. Writing is intimidating because most of what we read is other peoples' finished work, which, compared to our own half-finished work, seems so shiny and smooth. Then, we feel bad about our writing, beat ourselves up, and manifest the telling symptoms of OWD. If, however, we learn to be transparent with each other, we'll see that everyone writes, re-writes, re-writes, trashes, starts over…

5. Foster a writing community. Developing relationships with other helpful writers is key to becoming a better writer. The best way to start is to simply offer to help others with their writing.

6. Generosity is always a good thing. Quite frankly, we should be generous in all aspects of life. Whatever you are, be a generous one. (My twist on the Abraham Lincoln quote.)

But how to start?

Now, it might come off as a bit strange to go up to a peer and say, “Hey, there, you look like you could use some help with your writing.” She'd probably say, “Umm, no thanks…?”

You have one of two options:

a. Offer to trade papers. Say that you need some help on your paper, and maybe she'd like to trade papers, so you can help each other. Mutually satisfying, and you still get the above benefits. This does take courage, but are you a writer, or are you a mouse? If you're ever going to be published, you'll have to learn to let people read your writing anyway.

b. Offer to help someone younger and less experienced. If you're an advanced graduate student, offer to help a first year. If you're a college student, offer to help a high school student. Just because they're less experienced doesn't mean you can't learn a heck of a lot from them. I've tutored elementary students who can barely read, and the processes of explaining independent and dependent clauses in third grader language is enlightening, I assure you.

So, do you suffer from Obsessive Wordsmithing Disorder? Do you agree with my symptoms and prescriptions? Other suggestions?

*I'm completely joking. There is no Obsessive Wordsmithing Disorder, and 84% of writers do not have this disease. Please don't go to you psychologist and complain about this fictional disease. To my psychologist sister, I apologize for making your life harder. At least if you hear about OWD, you know where it came from.


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