It’s All About the Words

Trying to keep on track with a daily word count goal in mind can be somewhat detrimental to the whole creative process. At least for me. I find that I am constantly looking at the current tally down there in the left hand corner of my screen. Sometimes there is a surprising shock, when the number is much higher than I expected, but usually it’s a bit discouraging, especially when you’ve been at the keyboard for hours and your count is only 724.

But as key as it is to most writers, word count is not necessarily what I wanted to talk about today.

I’d like to zero in on the kind of words we’re using to make up that total.

Years ago, I signed up to get emails that would give me a new word every day, along with its pronunciation, its meaning, and an example of how it would be used in a conversation. Many of those words were already familiar to me, but then there were others like miscreant, atavistic, mendacious, dilettante, recondite, and poltroon. Can’t say that I’d ever heard or read these words, but it was amazing how they seemed to crop up after I knew about them. (Your homework assignment: look these up in the dictionary.)

My point is not that words like this should be used in our regular writing – it would be a pretty fast way to lose a reader – but I am suggesting that we need to expand our vocabulary to include a wider variety of words. Use words that come alive. Words that evoke images in the minds of our readers. Words that create action, tension, calm, terror, a sense of wonder.

I have a handy-dandy writer’s tool called Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer, which full of words along with alternate words that mean the same or similar thing. Sort of an expanded Thesaurus (which everyone should have anyway). I picked up this book at a writers’ conference years ago and I use it regularly. Get one.

Another thing to keep in mind concerning words: we have to remember who our audience is – age, gender, demographic. This was a big one for me. I did a lot of technical writing during my years in the corporate world; training manuals, procedure manuals and reports to the point where I could just about do it in my sleep. This seriously impacted my fiction writing. I am convinced that technical writing uses a completely different part of your brain, and I found that I couldn’t switch that part off when I tried to write anything else. I learned a valuable lesson from my boss at the time. His favorite phrase was, “cut the fluff”. He worked with me to eliminate the unnecessary words, keep the important ones, and then look for better words to replace them. I am ever grateful to him because those editing sessions contributed to my ability to produce much tighter fiction writing.

Yes, it really is all about the words.

Choose carefully.

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