Every once in a while I run across a word that seems to hook me in. It makes me stop and think about it, what it means and, yes, I attempt to use it in a sentence. Sometimes it’s an unfamiliar word. Other times it may be a word that I’ve heard and used hundreds of times. It is just now, for some reason or another, that the word has made me sit up and take notice. I am captured, taken in, spellbound, curious and wanting to know more. Hold that thought, please.
I have a very good friend who happens also to be a very good writer. We worked together for about ten years back in the 70s. The relationship, despite being separated by a thousand-plus miles since then, continues as strong as ever. Since I retired and began writing books, his opinion of what I write is the one to which I pay the most attention. He is not only a seasoned author, he has spent years editing other people’s work…mine included. He has no hesitation taking me down to ground zero or below and demoralizing me so much so that sharp instruments should not be within my reach.
There was one time my friend so annihilated one of my books that I wanted to run and hide under my bed like a child and never come out again—and that was just 3-4 years ago. But I came to my senses, crawled out from under the box spring and changed just about everything he suggested. I wound up with what I consider my best work. He hurts, but he’s exactly what I need as a writer whose writing needs help.
Since my friend is exceptionally busy with his own work, I hesitate to ask him to review mine, especially since I know he would never accept a fee from me to do it.
But now we have adopted, I think, a new process. We will see how it goes. I am sending him a draft, one chapter at a time, as I complete it. This way he has only a small chuck to review and send back to me whenever he gets around to it. I will be patient.
Currently, he has the first chapter of my most recent endeavor. He has not returned it yet, but he has made some initial comments via e-mail that well caught my attention. He writes:
He went on briefly to explain his comment and offer some examples…but it’s the word, “compelling” that stuck out in blaring, flashing, stigmatizing technicolor and almost blinded my bespectacled aging eyes.
So the word, ladies and gentlemen, that hooked me this time is “compelling.” Certainly not a new word for me. In fact, I have used it a gazillion times in describing books, movies, TV shows, whatever! And here it is, being used to describe my…MY…work. How dreadful. How hurtful. How compelling.
In fact, I spent the day rewriting the initial pages of my latest project. Some sections remain untouched; others have grown radically from one sentence to whole paragraphs as I embellished whatever it was I was talking about—except now there is a lot more description or definition with the intention of making people and situations more compelling to the reader.
Webster on compelling: “very interesting…able to capture and hold the attention…capable of causing someone to believe or agree…strong and forceful…causing you to feel that you must do something.”
These are pretty easy concepts to grasp. It’s not that there is a lot of banter back and forth to debate the usage of the word. If I were to argue anything about the meaning of the word I would suggest that its lack of presence is more impactful than when it is present. This is the case, at least for me in this moment, and it has affected me more than if my friend had said my writing is compelling. I probably would have taken the latter more lightly, said thanks for the compliment and moved on. But that is because I am not the most compelling person…and I need to be in my writing. Accepting the criticism that my writing is NOT compelling is…well, it brings a whole new meaning to the concept of rejection.
Indeed, compelling is a very strong word. It is compelling within itself. I would not encourage you to fling it about recklessly, even if you are compelled to do so. Have you ever convinced someone to do something to which they initially objected…strongly! That can be a pretty formidable task, especially if it is a loved one you are attempting to compel.
No, this is not a word to be taken lightly. It’s deep. You have to go way down, get under it and poke around a bit before you truly get it. I am, as a writer, in the process of trying to do that. It’s just not a matter of going back over my writing and adding more words or imagery. I would have much more enjoyed my friend calling my writing “flowery” or “juicy” or something ridiculous like that. Compelling is so much more meaningful. It sticks and things that stick are usually pointed and hurt. And things that hurt are usually the things on which you spend most of your time and effort to get rid of. In this instance, I am compelled to do that…just as soon as I crawl out from under my bed.