Those of you who have sat through at least one session with an optometrist might understand that moment when he or she says: which is clearer: slide one; or two? One or two?
You're sitting there in the chair, trying not to squint (because you'll get told not to) and, for the life of you, the difference between slide one and two is... umm... Well, you pick one just to keep the doctor happy.
My editor has made a few changes in my manuscript which makes me feel like I'm in that chair again: is it better to say: he looked straight into the eyes of.... OR he found himself looking straight into the eyes of....?
I read these either or choices aloud to my husband. It is he who says it's as difficult as saying which is clearer - one or two. He's right of course and so the final decision rests with me. The editor has made the change because something jarred for her so I am back reading the entire manuscript out loud to ensure there is smoothness. In some parts, though, it's like trying to iron out the wrinkles in the cover-seal of one of my daughter's exercise books.
As I read, I see a word and it does the job but it's not EXACTLY what I mean. So, I go hunting in my thesaurus and can spend up to 30 mins trying to find the right word. Sometimes, I confess, it's too hard and I give up. I did this this morning with the word 'excitement'. I wanted/meant glee/delight/nasty joy but could not find the right one to fit with the sentence. I chose another word to excitement and, if it is not quite right, I'm certain no one will really notice.
And, to further muddy the metaphor waters, I will quote other experts who understood all too well the process we writers go through to get it just right for you, the reader:
Oscar Wilde: I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.
Charles Pierre Péguy: A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.
Finally, I will leave you with a quote I've used before but it pretty much is how I feel about my own work:
Maurice Gee: I could go on tinkering with my books forever. When I reread them I’m constantly recognising lost fictional opportunities, ways I could have made someone do something more interesting.
Perhaps this is why I don't like reading my books once they are published. I do love touching them and looking at their shiny covers and feeling the weight of them in my hands. To read them, however, is too terrifying - what if I remember that exact word I wanted when it is far too late?