[Tipster] The Writer as Alligator WrestlerOct 27, 2023
By Dave Goetz
The main work of a writer is to fix sentences.
You lay down that first sentence. You write another. And then another or two. Now you have a paragraph.
It’s time to roll up your shirtsleeves.
In her book, The Writing Life, Annie Dillard describes the job of a writer as that of an alligator wrestler: “You are a Seminole alligator wrestler. Half-naked, with your two bare hands, you hold and fight a sentence's head while its tail tries to knock you over.”
If you subdue the alligator, your reward is to grapple the next one. And then the next one. A handful of subdued sentences becomes a paragraph. And if you subdue enough paragraphs, you complete an essay, a blog post, a chapter.
The life-and-death work of writing is at the level of the sentence.
Sentence wrestlers have no shortage of techniques for the work. You can:
- Shorten them;
- Invert them;
- Slice them in half and create two sentences;
- Stitch two together and create a compound sentence;
- Eliminate the passive voice;
- Add the passive voice;
- Whack the long prepositional phrase at the beginning of the sentence;
- Whack the long prepositional phrase at the end of the sentence;
- Switch out the verb for a more active one;
- Switch out the verb for another one more time;
- Cut out all the adjectives and adverbs;
- Add color to a noun with an adjective;
- Manipulate the sentence so the last word creates more impact; and, finally, among many other techniques,
- Delete the sentence entirely.
When you delete a sentence, the alligator has won. For only a moment, however.
You die a thousand deaths when you write an essay, a blog post, a chapter.
It’s only in death, though, that your writing can find resurrection. Grab that next alligator.