Finding That ‘Perfect’ Word

Everyone’s had trouble finding that elusive, “just right” word, especially when it comes to writing. I just came across this chart, created by English teacher Kaitlin Robbs: Tired of hackneyed emotion adjectives – either in your own writing or student work? Just slap this sucker up on the wall and your problems are solved.

word chart

But – one caveat – be careful about when you use it. My usual approach when I’m drafting and can’t think of the right word is to type a completely random string of letters and come back to it later. It may sound strange, but I know if I break my workflow for a “quick” word-quest, I’ll derail my writing momentum. Then I’ll need to steam up the engine all over again to get the ol’ writing train back on track. So instead, I just write something like, “The author described the intervention as afwoeifjwe to educational achievement,” and worry about it later.

Or, when I have a particular meaning or image in my mind, but can’t remember the word for it, I’ll just make up my own word or mini-definition to use as a placeholder: something like “these studies (quickly gave birth to) a new genre of research.” That way I’ll at least remember what I was trying to say but, again, I don’t hold up the overall work.

Now, in that particular case, the word I was thinking of was “spawned” which sounded pretty odd in that context. So I still went to the online thesaurus (I settled on “sparked”) but, I did that LATER. If I had spawned my vocab-quest mid-sentence, upon my return, I likely would’ve forgotten where that idea was going in the first place. My lexically-complete sentence would be all dressed up with no place to go.

So I leave my sentences tantalizingly incomplete, rife with imperfection – which I therapeutically call “potential” – and this is ok. (See my last post on perfectionism if this idea drives you nuts.).

Other ideas? What are some good techniques to find that elusive “just right” word in your own – or in students’ – writing? Do you stop and go after it on the first draft, or do you just “afpwoeifwe” like I do?

Feel free to comment below or on the blog’s Facebook page.

Follow on twitter @chriskbacon

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