No One Would Make a Coconut Fluoride Rinse: A writer’s frustration with finding the right words

A Distractions & Subtractions post

So, I have this sort of condition….

It’s nothing overly serious – nothing requiring medical treatment or that’s even been officially diagnosed.  More than anything, it makes for something of an odd party trick in response to yet another game folks may play at a party.

The blindfolded, guess-what-food-I’ve-just-put-in-your-mouth game.

Yes, this does, indeed, relate to writing.  Everything does with me, dontcha know?

Anyway, I am terrible at this game.  The absolute worst.  I can never guess the food – a failing quite independent of my level of sobriety at the time.

It’s actually rather frustrating, because I always know what the food is.

I just can’t seem to make myself say it.  I can’t seem to close the circuit between my taste buds and that part of my brain where my memory of specific food tastes resides.

Or rather, I can’t close it properly.  For it’s not like I can’t say any food flavour; I just can’t say the right one.  It’s like I’ve got some kind of culinary aphasia.

(Aphasia – noun: the inability to express thought in words, or inability to understand thought as expressed in the spoken or written words of others, by reason of some brain disease, Chambers 20th Century Dictionary, New Edition.)

(For the record, I don’t have a brain disease, nor have I ever suffered a brain injury.  I have, however, had this strange condition of mine since I was at least 16 years old.)

My best example: A dentist once bid me guess the flavour of fluoride I was being given.  I said “Coconut”.

It was orange.

Lost in translation

This story is noteworthy for two reasons: One – I knew it wasn’t coconut.  Who would ever make a coconut-flavoured fluoride treatment?  What, did the Canadian Dental Association form a partnership with Malibu or Bounty?

And two – it kind of reminds of me of what happens when I write.

Generally, I write at an thought-by-thought level, with a single thought typically represented by a paragraph.  A thought will enter my head – I’ll have a very clear idea of what that thought is, and sometimes will even hear the actual paragraph describing that thought.

But all this takes place within the country of my mind.  When it comes time to actually write the paragraph in question down, something strange happens.  There I’ll be typing away, and suddenly, I’ll find myself stopped mid-sentence, momentarily unable to finish.

Parts of the paragraph will have gone missing, like a corrupted data file, or words spoken across a great distance, or a bad translation.  That perfect adjective – gone; that killer verb – vanished without a trace.

It’s like I’m suddenly an ESL student to my own brain.

For in my mind, I’ll know what I’m trying to say – why wouldn’t I; it just occurred to me.  But I’ll be unable to actually say it/type it.

Word by word, note by note

And it’s then that the grunt work begins: instead of writing my novel thought by thought, I’ll now find myself writing sentence by sentence, pulling them out one at a time as if pulling teeth and as if each one weighs a ton, trying to align them in a sequence that will produce a natural-sounding rhythm and flow.

Sometimes, the writing process is even worse: sometimes, it comes word by word.

For me, anyway, this is a verrrrry slow way to write.  I’m used to hearing the inflectional rise and fall of paragraphs like music in my head – like the chorus of a song that’s most satisfying in its sound and the message it conveys when its heard in its entirety.

A single sentence is more like one line of a chorus.  A single word is like a single note.  It doesn’t carry a complete meaning on its own, nor does it necessarily make it easy to work out what should come next.

Yet, this is the problem I often have.  This is my fifth and final writing subtraction.

Subtraction vs. Distraction

A quick recap of my Subtraction Hall of Fame:

  • My most fatal subtraction: Not thinking enough ahead of time about what I’m going to write
  • My oldest subtraction: Not having an outline for my WIP
  • My most preventable subtraction: Halting a writing session at the end of my ideas for a given day
  • The subtraction that bothers me the least: My inability to truly write anywhere other than at home

This current subtraction I would have to classify as the one that bothers and worries me the most.  Not because deep down I’m worried there really is something wonky with my brain.

I just want to write faster.

Why wouldn’t I, after all?  We live in world of fast information, fast entertainment, and very short attention spans.  I want to get my stories out there while the appetite for books in any form still exists.  For to quote sci-fi/horror author, Chuck Wendig,

[W]hat you’re competing against is everything else that’s not a book. Movies! Television! Games! …totally free content. Blogs! News! Youtube videos of some guy getting hit in the nuts by a surly cat riding a dirtbike! HA HA HA I DON’T NEED BOOKS I HAVE SURLY DIRTBIKE CAT TO MAKE ME FEEL GOOD.

Not to mention that for those who do still read, some can power through a novel in a weekend, whereas it takes some writers several years to create a novel.  Unless one is a very very good, very very popular writer, being a slow writer doesn’t seem to be the way to a lasting literary these days.

Add to that how quickly the market can become saturated with the current hot thing: if you’re trying capitalize on market trends – even in a very broad and generic sense – a writer who can produce a quality manuscript in six months vs. one who takes a year or years is going to stand a much better chance of success.

Wisdom of the (and for all) ages

This is the modern world we live in.  We’ve got a need for speed with things growing faster still all the time with very few proponents to be found of anything less.

Save one.

Slow and steady win the race.

A proverb as enduring as it is endearing, it serves as a reminder that no matter how quickly the world may yet turn, it is only myself with whom I am in genuine competition.

It’s only me who can write the book/books I want to write.  Only me who can put in the work to produce something that I’m proud of, however long that may take.  Only me how can live the sort of life I want to lead, that prioritizes writing, yes, but also leaves room for other interests I also have.

And at this point, until I actually manage to finish something and get it out there, it’s only me to whom any of this truly matters.

Rather than berate myself for not writing fast enough, I need to praise the fact that I’m even writing consistently at all.  Such is a more than a lot of others can boast.  Better to write slowly than nothing at all, for only one of these methods is going to result in a tangible product at the end.

Writing my novel-in-progress may be taking me a long time, but it’s my time.

I owe it to myself to enjoy it.

(Image source #1 and #2)


A/N: This is my final Distractions & Subtractions post.  My thanks to everyone who participated in this post series, either through submitting your own writing subtractions, writing companion posts, commenting, linking, or Liking the various posts.

4 thoughts on “No One Would Make a Coconut Fluoride Rinse: A writer’s frustration with finding the right words

  1. I write slowly as well and I think it comes from my love of savoring the words (pardon the pun!)

    From memory I think Don Quixote took about ten years to write. But everything has to be done ‘now’ these days and writers can punch out three or four novels a year. It takes me over two years to write a novel (that someone can read in a few hours!), but I try not to think about the readers (sounds selfish I know) because I focus solely on the story and they journey, not the end product and getting it out there as fast as possible. Actually, I tell a lie – I did this for one book because I was trying to make the deadline for it’s launch. I’d never do this again (this was Soul’s Child) because I ended up cutting the story too short and when people read it they say they wish it was longer.

    Savor the writing and keep it slow – it’s good for the soul 😀


  2. Don’t worry. I’ve got the same problem. Many people regard me as having a large spoken vocabulary, yet it manages to go missing when I’m staring at my monitor, trying to stir up a workable first draft. Where are all the artful phrases and razor-sharp metaphors when I need them?

    Fortunately, I’ve learned to just crank it out and let it be awkward at first. I just need to get the events onto the page. I’ll wait for the second and third drafts for lyrical inspiration.

    Of your five subtractions, the first two are advantages in my world! I also experienced the third one without realizing it, until I read about it here. Now I know to quit while I still have a quarter of a tank.


    • I think a big part of the problem has to do with my WIP being historical and first person. It almost feels like doing a translation, for I have to convert every thought into quasi Ye Olde Speake. There’s a certain cadence I’m trying to achieve with the narration that doesn’t come naturally, and I’ve yet to fully learn to think in that rhythm. My first (shelved) novel was fantasy and third person, and came out much faster.

      I don’t doubt that my first two subtractions are actually advantages for some writers. Me, I’m just the type of person who needs to think through and plan everything. I’m very consistent with other areas of my life in that regard. But I’m glad that my writing about subtraction #3 has helped you overcome a similar problem in your own process. Yay – writers helping writers. You owe me one now. 😉


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