[Tipster] Fight the Good Fight to Find the Perfect Word

tipster post May 06, 2022

Word choice matters.

Mark Twain allegedly said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

I often struggle to lay down a clear sentence.

So thinking about selecting the precise word that conveys exactly what I mean can feel onerous.

But the persistence is critical.

It's one way you establish your voice as a writer.

Your word choice is part of your writing voice.

1. Yes, it is a fight.

Writing well is always a grind.

The creative work is to say something in a fresh way. And in a precise way.

To write what you mean.

It's easy to default to clichés and common words.

2. I almost always never get the right word in the first draft.

Most of us know this, but just for the record:

Don't expend much energy "crafting your sentences" in the first draft.

That's too overwhelming.

Just get the first draft onto the screen or in your journal.

Just burp it out.

The first draft is just that: a first draft. One of many. Maybe one of a hundred drafts.

3. The right word may not simply be a synonym.

I look up synonyms online all the time.

I lay down my first draft. I see a word that needs improvement, and then I jump online for a synonym.

That's a good start.

But it may not be enough.

In his book, The Elements of Story, Francis Flaherty references Roget, the 19th Century British physician who published "Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases."

Roget said something to the effect that in reality, synonyms do not really exist because every word has a unique meaning.


My point is simply to say: Start with a synonym.

You may find the perfect word. You may not.

Be persistent if you don't feel satisfied.

4. Fight for the right word up until the bloody end.

I make changes to words up until the moment I push "publish" on a blog. (And sometimes after I publish the blog, I make even more!)

I've even made word changes on the final proofs before my books were published.

That's the last seconds of the last minute.

This is normal.

5. Don't make your search for the perfect word an excuse not to publish.

Yes, stay in the fight to write fresh words using vivid and precise language.

But you still need to ship your work.

Go ahead and publish that blog.

But don't delay sending your article to the magazine for publishing.

And certainly don't postpone sending off that book manuscript.

Now, buckle up and write. And then ship.