The Blessing of Find but not Replace

written by Melissa Connolly

There were, after the editing was finished, 647 instances of the word “look” still in the manuscript. This was after I had noticed my penchant for talking about how we just looked at one another in silence, or with meaning, or longing, or how I looked at him while he talked or moved or ate…I looked at the floor, at my feet, at the vista beyond.  Characters said “look” as a means of opening a dialogue, they looked through friends, at the food.

And so began the painful movement through those 647 instances of look, word by word. Even at just a minute of edits each, it was, by my admittedly terrible and inept calculations, a 10 hour task.

In truth, it was a blessing. And not just because I varied it with “stare,” “glance” or “gaze,” which I did, on occasion.

Sometimes, I just took the “look” out.  Of course I was looking at the person I was talking to. Did I need it? No.

Sometimes I rewrote it, realizing I needed something else entirely. Maybe there was something I needed to say about the relationship between these two people. Maybe I was exploring something, maybe I was seeing something new or for the first time, and it wasn’t about the looking but about the seeing.

And in the end, I realized that the looking was becoming a sort of theme, one I hadn’t (pun intended) seen before. That this character looked but didn’t want to see. And I didn’t know that, at least in that efficient phrasing, before finding, reading and replacing the 647 instances of the word “look.”

Look no longer owned me.  But I saw what was important, and I used look with purpose.

And I’d like to thank Microsoft, because in truth, this would have been the work of several editors in the age of manual typewriters.

Tomorrow we’ll find and replace the word ‘smile’ and see what happens.

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