Finding the Words #amwriting #TheStruggleIsReal

When we sit down to write, we consciously create pictures with words. If we have done our job, the ideas they generate in the reader’s mind are infinite.

Words-And-How-We-Use-ThemWe often see memes and quotes about writing that resonate with us. Quotes often become memes because they are true and memorable and sometimes poke fun at us.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” ― Jack Kerouac

The words we write create images in the mind of the reader. If the ideas they represent are phrased right, the complete picture will be understood. We must believe that readers will see the images we paint for them.

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

This is where it becomes difficult for me as a writer. I know I don’t have to spell everything out in minutia because readers are intelligent. But the insecure writer inside me fears that the reader will become confused if I don’t.

Still, I force myself to trim it down. My editor regularly points out the fluff. If I offer the reader a framework to hang their imagination on, they will see the story.

“The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” – Anais Nin

I write because writing fiction helps me work my way through troubled times. When I write, I can better see how to navigate life experiences that seem too big, too scary. I face things head-on, use my incredible Office Managerial Superpowers and get things done.

I write for me, but readers may feel those emotions and sympathize with my characters’ situation. They may find a little comfort in knowing they aren’t alone.

 I’m a poet. Keeping it simple isn’t my best thing, but I’m working on it.

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.” – Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway gives us a truism here—don’t use “ten-dollar-words.” That’s an old-fashioned term for long words used in place of more common words. Word nerds (like me) adore those rare, bombastic morsels of linguistic delectableness.

bombasticLIRF12032022However, obscure and pretentious prose (such as I enjoyed laying down in the preceding sentence) annoys the majority of readers. I want my work to please a reader, so I don’t indulge in ostentatious phrasing except in poetry.

Right now, my editor is combing her way through the final draft of a manuscript I hope to publish this spring. She keeps me on track and points out where a reader might have to find a dictionary and look up a word.

Sometimes I leave the words in, because they are the only ones that work, and I don’t want to underestimate my readers by dumbing down my prose. Occasionally looking up a word can be fun and reading on an electronic device makes it easy.

Even though writing fiction is a solitary occupation that takes up my early morning hours, I find that writing a few paragraphs in my journal each evening helps organize my daily life. Things that happened that day become clearer once I write them out. Tasks that seem too big to accomplish are easier to resolve once I have them broken down on paper.

Writing fantasy offers me the chance to express my ideas, in a safe, non-threatening environment, without pushing them on other people. These ideas become part of the scenery, subtle hints detailing the societal framework the protagonist must live in.

All writers do this, no matter what genre or category they write in. Our personal philosophies become entwined in the book in subtle ways. Whether intentional or not, we use our words to create societies and offer ideas that challenge the status quo.

Choosing our words well is part of the job. Often, I feel a bit poetic when visualizing the world in which the story takes place. I try to tame it, but it emerges, hopefully in palatable bites. I don’t want too much—it has to be just enough to create an atmosphere.

I became a poet and songwriter because I love words, love twisting them, love rhyming them—just love them. My whole family adores words in all their glory. My parents used proper words and expected us to know and use them.

 My Dad loved words so much that he mangled them just because he liked how they sounded. He was an amputee, and sometimes he became so frustrated that he lost his words and resorted to creative cursing.

powerwordsWordCloudLIRF06192021Mama and Dad both invented words and twisted others: a screwdriver was a skeejabber. Any object can be a doo-dad, but they were often doodle-be-dads in our house. When one or the other parent was mystified, they were bumfuzzled.

Seldom-used arcane words are in my blood, so writing lean, relatable prose is an ongoing task. I’m always trying to tone it down but not flatten it. I want a little of the poet to show through and my narrative to be literate, but I also want it to be readable.

Striking the right balance is a process.

“To write well, express yourself like the common people, but think like a wise man.” – Aristotle


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25 responses to “Finding the Words #amwriting #TheStruggleIsReal

  1. Unfamiliar words have to be used in context so the reader can infer the meaning, but sometimes that isn’t enough and it may require looking it up or as I do sometimes, ignore it and read on. With too many obscure words, you run the risk of making your story sound like you are tying to use fancy words (when a simple one would actually work better) and making the reader feel dumb.

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  2. Another great statement with many good advices, Connie! Thanks for sharing, and enjoy your week! xx Michael

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  3. I like learning new words, and I frequently look up words to see if I’ve deduced the correct meaning from the context in which they were used. I’m not saying I want to read with a dictionary at my side (but I do), but I respect authors who understand when a long word offers a more precise meaning.

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    • Hello! I love learning new words too. This is why I love reading and writing poetry – I can use all my words as much as I want without fear that a reader will feel talked down to. People who read poetry or literary fiction expect to find new words and will gladly look them up. Most of my narrative work doesn’t fit in the literary fiction category. I’m not that adept at constructing prose and structuring a plot arc. But I’m learning!

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  4. Couple of thoughts: Kate Atkinson isn’t reluctant to us “ten dollar words” in Shrines of Gaiety. I had to look two up and I have a huge vocabulary from 70+ years of reading and writing. I actually enjoy seeing eloquence expressed in unfamiliar words. Second: My daughter and I find “fluff” a perfect substitute for the “f word.” Also, there is something satisfying about shouting “Bats!” when angry at something inanimate. e.g. stubbing toe; bottle that won’t open, etc.

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  5. Couple of thoughts: Kate Atkinson is not shy about using “ten dollar words” in Shines of Gaiety. I had to look up two and I have a huge vocabulary developed over 70+ years of reading and writing. It’s a pleasure to see eloquence expressed using unfamiliar words. Second, my daughter and I have found “fluff” makes a perfect substitute for “the ‘f”word.” And, shouting “BATS is very satisfying after a negative encounter with an inanimate object, e.g. stubbing toe; bottle or jar that won’t open.

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  6. I, too, have the tendency to over explain things in the stories I write. And, like you, I do it because I want to make sure the reader understands. From what I’ve found about other writers, this is a common concern. I wonder what books to read that will show me how to calm this inclination. Would the classics from the 19th century help?


    • Hello! I honestly don’t know, but I do love to read them. I think I’ve learned a lot from modern writers like George Saunders. I like how he structured “Escape from Spiderhead.” It’s a short story in his compilation, “The Tenth of December.”

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  7. Aristotle’s words are perfect to finish this post.
    And I love all the other quotes, too.
    Yes, finding the right word can be a challenge, but we must believe in ourselves, and a good thesaurus.

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  8. I always find something to learn in your post, and this one isn’t any different. When writing, I often use the same word several times in a chapter because I can’t find anything more appropriate. Even using a word found with a thesaurus doesn’t sound appropriate for my protagonist. Is it considered weak writing to use the same word when using a synonym makes the sentence or the dialogue sound or feel out of place? (example: using a cemetery as opposed to a graveyard). Thanks for your input.

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    • Hello Chuck! Oh, my goodness-I have the same problem only the word is “sword.” My characters use a two-handed blade, so the many different types of sword-words (rapier, epee, claymore, etc.) don’t work. I’m stuck with “sword” and “blade” as “sharp-edged-steel-thingy” just doesn’t work!

      Sometimes we have to run with what we’re given, so other than “field-full-of-dead-people-underground,” you’re pretty limited too. Good luck and let me know if you find an alternative.