Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stopping for the Perfect Word

A recent comment on my blog asked if it was such an awful thing to stop writing and search for the perfect word. Perhaps she was responding to my tongue in check post suggesting that editing, or other forms of stopping while in the middle of a sentence or paragraph, were akin to a horrible monster that attacks in the night! :)

OK, it is not that bad, but I do think it is problematic, as it breaks the flow of writing. I am not suggesting that you live with words that don't work for you, but that you allow yourself to "go where the energy is" and complete your entire train of thought before you wordsmith. Words to paper is the name of the game, allowing yourself to stay "in the zone" when you are in it is key to good and productive writing.

While I cannot prove it from a physiological standpoint, I do believe that we are using different parts of the brain, or at least different modes of thinking, when we are "just writing" verses when we are editing or wordsmithing. From working with people over the years, many have reported that when they do let go of the wordsmithing or editing while they are writing, they are able to get their ideas on page far easier, and move forward with their work more quickly.

Once you have finished writing, then go back an wordsmith. If you are afraid that you will somehow forget the horrible, awful offending words, simply mark them using the bold key or highlighting function, and continue to move on.

When you are done writing (meaning, spent, tired, over it), then go back and edit. Take out that thesaurus  (how old school) and play with the offending words for a few minutes. Now find the best word. Now work on your sentences. Poof- you now have a lot of writing AND it meets your exacting standards!

Try it for a few weeks; what do you have to lose? If it works, then you have a new tool. If it did not work, you at least committed to writing more and experimenting with writing; that alone should keep you on a good writing trajectory. Alas, go back to your old ways if they work for you.

It is absolutely true that any of the "rules" or guidance that I provide here are not written in stone, and are merely suggestions. I do think this one might hold true for most people, although  perhaps not all.


  1. The first time you mentioned this back in spring quarter it really seemed like something that would help me not forget the direction of where I was going with a particular idea. I tend to think about what I’m going to write for long periods of time and find a direction in my head before ever typing a word. So if I stop to fix words as I go I tend to get distracted and have to stop, think and find my direction again. This simple way to avoid time consuming loss of thought has been extremely helpful to me. I also have a link to an online thesaurus that helps me a ton when I go back and fix parts where I use the same word over and over and need to break it up with different forms of the word.


  2. Michelle,

    What you describe is the perfect rationale for this method- I am glad it works for you. Yes, there are several good online thesauruses- I also have a nice good school one from the 1960s that I am partial to.