ABC’s of Writing (for Beginners): X is for Xyq

Posted by on Oct 9, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

MA2In old dictionaries you may find the now obsolete word, xyq (pronounced “zik”)—a noun that meant “1. a person or thing included in a group only as a necessary measure to attain some form of completeness 2. a rare though often essential thing unable to exhibit its true uniqueness.”

Xyq had a vogue in the Victorian era but eventually fell out of use by the 20th century having been replaced in common speech by synonyms like token which never really captured its depth of meaning.

Though you may never have had a word for it, all writers face struggles adapting xyq into their work. Let me explain:

Xyq Are Necessary to Attain Completeness
Complete is a word that conjures a false sense of security for artistic creators. The word complete conjures positive connotations—think complete proteins, a complete collection, a complete breakfast—but complete also implies a measurable, definite goal which just doesn’t apply to an inexact art like writing. Trying to complete a creative work is like trying to fill a glass with milk when you don’t know how big the glass is. If you just keep pouring, eventually someone is going to end up crying.

This is the dilemma creatives find themselves in when trying to “complete” a work. Copywriter, Alastaire Allday struggles with this very principle in his own form of creation in the advertising industry. Allday admits that most copy—heck, most work, most content, most jobs—are only done 80% of the way. But he applies what’s know as the 80/20 principle to mean that in most cases 80% is usually good enough. But as Allday says, “In an age where more or less everything is 80% or 90% good, those things that really are 100% truly stand out.”

Allday argues that the latter 20% is where completion becomes more art than science. And that’s where xyq exist. Obsessing over that last 20% is a struggle for sure, but for some, these xyq can result in a product worth the challenge.

On the flip side, for many creatives, being a perfectionist like this can get in the way of ever finishing a work. For some, getting to experience the beginning, middle and end of the creative process is better than endlessly toiling over your “magnum opus”. W. H. Auden once said, “A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned,” but for creatives the question becomes, “When is it time to abandon those xyq?” When is good enough good enough?

Xyq Never Get to Exhibit Their True Uniqueness
Being a xyq is often a thankless job. Though they help define genres and perfect ensembles, xyq are often playing supporting roles.

For instance, take said. When putting together dialogue, writers face a few struggles. How do they indicate different speakers in a conversation. The most common approach is to “tag” the dialogue with a he said/she said.

Some writers take the Hemingway route, and avoid dialogue tags altogether. In Hemingway’s writing, it is not uncommon to see a page and a half of dialogue with only the idiosyncratic speech patterns as a guide for who is speaking.

Other writers prefer to get creative with their writing and put together more descriptive dialogue tags. You’ll often see writers using tags like, “he muttered”, “she questioned”, or “he said exasperatedly”. Muttered, questioned and said exasperatedly are certainly descriptive, but they also draw a bit of attention to themselves. When used fast and loose, they can throw off the balance of the sentence and overpower the true meat which should be the dialogue itself.

Another choice when writing dialogue is to heed the advice of blog writer Mr. Pond, and “say said“. Mr. Pond argues that said is the perfect dialogue tag, because it draws attention away from itself. It’s a supporting actor, or an athlete giving up the assist. It is essentially a xyq.

Words Are a Means to an End
I find it important to remind myself when writing that the words are only a means to an end. Ultimately, when writing, the idea is the thing I’m trying to convey, and the words are the channel through which I convey it.

Sometimes when writers get caught up in the art of creation, they fill their works with words (or passages, or characters) that draw too much attention to themselves. Like a team composed of MVPs who don’t know how to share the ball, a sentence composed of MVWs (most valuable words) will ultimately lose to the one that recognizes that a team should be greater than its parts.

Mark-Anthony Lewis loves sad songs, fantastic tales, and pumpkin flavored things.  ABC’s of Writing




  1. ABCs of Writing at Spry | Mark-Anthony Lewis - […] over at the Spry blog called X is for Xyq. […]

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