To all the words I’ve loved before

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NATE LEMEN | OPINION COLUMNIST | nlemen@butler.edu

Allow me to make two points, ostensibly unrelated, though with a forthwith connection one can likely make before it is explicated upon. In the past, I have been accused of being long-winded, perhaps even self-indulgent, but I assure you: there is a purpose to these connections.

First, the Collegian is publishing our final issue of the year this week, which means it is the end of my work with our current Editor-in-Chief Dana Lee, managing editor Marisa Miller and digital managing editor Zach Horrall.

Second, over the past year of writing for our opinion section, I have fallen into a familiar rhythm with the congruence on my writing process and our editing team’s editorial process. Let’s start with this one.

First drafts of stories are supposedly put in our shared folder by 5 p.m. on Sunday nights, to allow editors to peruse them that night or Monday morning. Sometimes I meet this deadline; more often than not, I fall short of that goal.

Instead, I customarily write my stories Monday nights — or, during bad weeks, on Tuesdays. Those are vexatious nights for all involved. My writing process is a cavalcade of ideas that build and branch off one another in a torrent; sometimes structured, they often emerge half-formed and only tangentially related. In these early stages, they are, in a word, a mess.

I work to piece the ideas together, though, to create some sort of cohesive whole before I send it on to our editors. They have enough work on their plate at any given time without the extra worry of streamlining the rhizomatic thoughts of a pontifical and often overzealous columnist.

Once I add it to the shared folder, the editors sift their way through my opuses, leaving expected and perhaps even obligatory comments at some of the less feasible connections between thoughts. There is one additional constant in their editing process, though, reliable and sturdy, that I have come to anticipate with trepidation: our editors will go through and, without fail, remove a few of the words that they deem to simply be “too much.”

These are words and phrases like “palimpsestic”; like “synecdoche”; like “vitriolic ire.” Good, strong words, words I love, words I think serve a specific function; words that, in my mind, are essential to my pieces.

When this happens — even though, at this point, I am resigned to the fact my sesquipedalian urges will be tempered — I still ask myself why all my most treasured words are censored. Why can’t I just use the words I want to? Who, fundamentally, is hurt by their inclusion? I usually pose this question to them, and they respond, without a modicum of hesitation, that it absolutely hurts our readers.

It has become something of a joke around the office, trying to guess what grandiloquent pattern of speech I’ll toss into a story. It’s funny, but I would be lying if I said I was not once bothered by the bowdlerization.

Let us return to the point I made at the genesis of this story. At our last staff meeting, one of the editors made a joke that for my final story of the year, I should simply write a piece that uses as many polysyllabic, pretentious, pedantic words as possible. I, not one for letting a bit die when it should, jumped on the opportunity.

This goes without saying but, in the spirit of recursivity,  I’ll say it anyway: this is that story. The maudlin conclusion I came to as I sat down to begin writing was something I of course have known all along: my stories — with the exception of the one that used “synecdoche,” a near-perfect word — are palpably better without my discursions.

Dana, Marisa and Zach have made me a better writer. As they gear up to become real-life human beings, they deserve that recognition. Even if it comes in as mawkish a form as this.

Dana: While I may resent that you constantly reminded me I am not as clever as I think I am, your constant stymying made me a better writer. You’ve failed to convince me I’m not the smartest person in the room, but you have taught me it’s better to be understood than superfluous.

Marisa: I don’t want to say you were mean in your edits, but you don’t have to call me “pretentious” so often — even if it did streamline my writing. It still blows my mind that my super compelling argument “But I really like the word!” was not convincing enough for you to waver in your convictions.

Zach: Even though I think you could have fought a little harder when you said you were on my side, I guess it’s the thought that counts. Thank you for always being very gentle when telling me I was obstinate and preening.

 

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