Word Searching - It's Hard. It's Important.

You open your eyes. Darkness. The utter absence of light, devoid of any sense of space and self.

A deep, if shaky, breath. You close and open them again. Still nothing. 


You really squeeze them shut this time, knowing that you should at least see a few brightly colored floating orbs of light. Suddenly those floaters are no longer a physiological nuisance. They're an essential connection between your physical and mental self. If you can see, they'll be there. If you're alive, they'll be there... 

Sometimes searching for the right word or phrase is like that for me. Probably why I write so slowly. If I don't see (on the page) exactly what I'm looking for, I risk losing my place in life (the story).What is normally an automatic, subconscious thing (putting a word into a sentence) becomes so much more important.

Contrary to common conjecture, writers aren't JUST fanciful dreamers who record their stream of consciousness and hope to coral it into a cohesive story. Unlike conversations with friends, writing requires perfect articulation. In the end, there's very little room for idle chat and boundless meandering. 

Effective storytelling is more akin to playing in a sandbox than on an endless beach. You begin with the understanding that you only have so much room to spread out and build. If your sand castle (story) is too expansive there'll be nothing to focus on. Doing too much runs the risk of creating something that isn't recognizable as a castle at all.

Effective writers are word surgeons, extracting the unnecessary and repairing the vital. In that way a perfect balance must be formed. A writer understands that the presence of one word in a story carries no more weight than the absence of the next. In story economy, the said and unsaid are of equal value.

I suppose that's why word searching can be so excruciating. While I'm not certain any story has ever entirely failed or succeeded on only one word, I do believe--like a misplaced stone in a wall--an ineffectual thought can severely harm the overall structure and integrity of a story.  

Do you feel any word-search pressure when you write? Has it ever gotten in the way of you finishing a story? At what point do you resolve to move on?

Also, BIG props to all you NaNoWriMo folks out there! I think you can read this post and understand why I might not be cut out to write 40K+ in a month. :) Best of luck to you all. I hope you surpass your goals!



  1. It is like that for me as well E.J. Though I tend to puke out the first draft and get crafty when I go through it the first time (I do not consider this editing, I still consider this part of writing.)

    I need to get the ideas out of my head fast as possible, but I plant seeds when I write. I grow them during the 2nd writing phase/pre-edit.

    Finding the right words is really challenging sometimes. This is my first NaNo - and the only thing I can say is that it's new. I haven't quite decided if it's good or bad for me yet.

    But it is holding me accountable to write, which is cool.

    Good luck with your writing!

  2. I know what you mean; it can often take forever to just get one sentence right. But when you get the exact right words in the exact right order it's magic!

  3. I know what that's like... I was just looking at a passage for a writer's meeting yesterday, and one word was out of place in a sentence, which would have had, I think, a spiralling effect.

  4. NaNo taught me how to plow ahead with my writing, however - I still pause, searching for a word better than the one I just wrote down. And during revisions I attack everything with a Thesaurus in hand.

  5. No NaNo for me and yes, I always have trouble with words. I still don't understand why Microsoft Word doesn't come with a dictionary only a synonym check. I flip back to Microsoft works and use that dictionary unless I'm online and then I can use the online searches of course. I also am surrounded by hard copies of dictionaries...makes me nuts!

  6. YES!!!!
    Of course, the word that is just right there, but I can't find it in my brainless head. What do I do? I leave it blank. I come back, sometimes later, sometimes days later, maybe weeks later, and I'll be darned if that stupid word just fits right in that blank.

    Don't allow the missing words to ruin the steam. I know from experience the word you need is right there, and when you're relaxed it will come to you. They may come to you in the next draft, or the one after that. I may go through what I've just written--a sentance, paragraph, page or whole chapter. I make spot edits as I go through. Sometimes when I go to bed something pops into my head and it's better than what I'd just written. It's like being insane, only better. We write it all down for others to read and enjoy. (^;
    Have a good one EJ!

  7. I don't feel any such pressure when I write. I don't think that individual words are important. And I think many writers focus too much on words and not enough on story. Honestly, just tell your story. Don't worry about finding perfect words.

  8. In the rough draft phase I just get out whatever words I can possibly muster. It's only when I'm in the revising phase that I seek out the rare creature that is the perfect word, a beast teetering on the brink of extinction as the result of one scribe's mad rush to hunt it down, ensnare it in a net, and drag it against its will into captivity.

    Uh, yeah. Perhaps some things really should be left unsaid.

  9. Sometimes I just can't find the word or words I'm looking for. That's when I write and write stuff. That's where my critique group comes in.

  10. EJ, excellent subject. One of your best blogs. I write whatever I think, but in editing, I'm tied to that Thesaurus. And like you, I cannot move on until I have the perfect word.

  11. In 25 years as an author, I've never done NaNo and likely never will.

  12. My blog post today is about choosing the right words. Great minds do think alike.


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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