The Editor’s Catch-All: AWK

First, a general announcement:

I’ve restored about a thousand posts from the earlier incarnation of this weblog. It will take me a while to categorize all of them, but the tag cloud should help (low in the right hand column) and there are a few links, also to the right, that are more specific. For example: links to the ‘writing sex scenes’ series and the ‘memoir’ series. Warning: the older the post, the more likely the external links will no longer work.

doctorow-elSo now, this word: awkward. You may see it  in the margin of work you have handed off to people in your workshop, or to your editor. The simplest interpretation of the AWK in the margin goes like this:

This [sentence]  doesn’t work.


This doesn’t work on many levels.


This doesn’t work on so many levels, I don’t know where to start.

An experienced writer, one who knows how to make the most of constructive criticism, will then look at the sentence in question and try  — really try — to see what’s wrong. Point of view? Tone? Lexical choices? Plot turn?  And if so, why didn’t the editor write POV instead of AWK? Answer: see responses two and three, above.

There are many synonyms for the word awkward: amateurish, stiff, artless, bumbling, floundering, inept, ungainly, ungraceful, unpolished but a good editor will most likely stick with AWK, because this shifts the responsibility back to you, the writer. There’s something off here, your editor is saying. You need to figure out what it is and fix it.

I’ve got a radical suggestion for you. If and when you encounter the AWK, do not panic. If you’re talking about a single sentence or short paragraph, don’t even try to rewrite it. Delete it, and see if the center holds. Because it often will.