The Illusive Word

Early on in my writing, I would have times when I’d be writing along and…nothing. I knew what I wanted to say but I couldn’t find the word I wanted. That was before I was writing on a computer. I would pull out my dictionary and look up a word similar to what I wanted. And hopefully by process of elimination, the right word would reveal itself.

After attending my first RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference, I learned that every writer needs a dictionary( which I had), a thesaurus, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the book Goals, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon. I went home and found those books at my local bookstore and they have been on my shelf. I even purchased a newer version of The Chicago Manual of Style this year.

my shelf of reference books

As you can tell by the ratty cover on the thesaurus, I have used it a lot. Even when I look up a word through Word Docs, I will end up going to the book. I sort through word after word, until I come up with the one that makes the sentence show what I want.

My falling apart thesaurus

There are days it feels like I stop my momentum more than I write. On those days my brain doesn’t spit out the words I want and I hunt and hunt. Then there are days I don’t touch any of the books as my fingers fly over the keys moving my story along with the precise words I need to convey the scene.

I know I will be going back and editing the story and could just put in what I want to say in parenthesis and move on. But my brain won’t let me. I have to have the exact word or I can’t move on with the story. Although there have been a couple of times when the right word couldn’t be conjured up with all my reference books. Then I do put down what I want to say in parenthesis and come back to it when I do the edits, hoping the brain is more engaged that day.

I think the need to have the “perfect” word is a curse to writers. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can use up writing time hunting down the illusive word that is on the tip of my fingers but can’t quite manifest in my mind.

For me, this is a second behind editing as the hardest and most dreaded part of writing for me. How about other writers? Do you also struggle at times to find the right word? Readers, have you ever read something and thought, “this word would have been a better choice?”

11 thoughts on “The Illusive Word

  1. It’s embarrassing how often in my early writing days I used a word that didn’t have quite the meaning I intended. I look up everything I question now, and I question a lot of my words. My favorite word book is The Synonym Finder by Rodale, which contains long lists of possible alternatives for words. Better than any Thesaurus. I don’t think it’s been updated since the 80s, but for me, it is invaluable!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Damyanti. That’s what I love about the writing process, we each have our own struggle when it comes to writing. I wouldn’t be whole if I didn’t write.


  2. I often feel the word that stumbles out of my fingers when I’m typing a story isn’t quite right, but I leave it and continue writing. Later, when I reread or edit that passage, I recognize the word is inaccurate, and the correct word comes to me. I know it’s there in my head, but not something I can forced out.

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  3. My bookshelf looks a lot like yours! (I am going to check and see if Ms. Dixon’s book is still available.) We differ in that when I cannot think of a word, I type in large red X’s. When I am done writing for that session, I go back to the red X’s, and the word I want generally comes to me.

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    1. Bonnie, it is so like writing. Everyone has their own way of coping with how they write and what they write. Thanks for stopping in! And for reblogging!


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