All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Writing the Perfect Word

I'll be the first to admit that today I am under the weather. Not in that good, hungover, "I feel horrible but it was worth it" kind of way, but in that spring cold bug in the sinuses kind of way. This kind of stuff really saps my energy, so in some ways this will not be a long post. In other ways, however, it will be very long. Confused? Well, I will fall back on Mark Twain's quote, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

When we don't concern ourselves with getting the perfect words on the page, we can actually write quite a bit. We can write long, drawn-out descriptions of many things, we can ramble on about our annoying sinus cold, we can explain in one-hundred words what might normally take us twenty to discuss. That's where I am at right now - I want to explain something fairly simple, but since my batteries are low, I will not focus on using the one perfect word and instead throw a cloud of ten at you in exchange.

It's only by sheer chance that the subject of the perfect word came up today when I am feeling far from perfect. Someone in our writing workshop was discussing their recent writing experience, and their observation boiled down to this: Getting exactly the right word to stand for everything you want to say, knowing that word will last well beyond your time, is surprisingly hard. Words are like that. They carry a lot of weight, but they are also precise devices meant to tap into very particular emotions. Love and hate are thrown around a lot because they refer to strong emotions, but we all know that they are broad terms that sometimes miss the more detailed point we want to make, whereas passion and rage  might be far better qualified to speak on your behalf. This is the exhausting part of choosing the right word.

Back during my time in finance, Fed Chief Alan Greenspan used the term, "irrational exuberance" during one of his speeches back in late-1996. You likely do not remember the speech, but that two-word phrase caught on as the best way to describe the building stock-market bubble that promptly blew up a little over three years later. Two words that defined the late 1990s. Why did they catch on? Well, it likely comes as no surprise that Greenspan later acknowledged that he spent twenty minutes sitting in the bath, ruminating over the exact way to quantify just what the markets suspected. Twenty minutes figuring out two words? Really? Well, they were well-spent because long afterward, those words remain a key phrase in finance and economics books discussing that era.

As for my friend on the writing group, he was looking for a word to go on a headstone. I don't know how long he spent on the challenge, but I am sure it was more time than Chairman Greenspan spent. And that is just why we can rush through and write a blog post in twenty minutes to talk about the exhaustive effort it takes to choose the right words. And it's also why we read those works again when we have more time and energy, comb through the meaning, and make it a real work of art.

For now, I have finished my words, so I am going to retreat to the couch and fight off this bug.          


  1. I entered an online writing contest some years back. The setup was to write a complete story of no more than 100 words. I loved the brevity, and I came in third place!
    I find word choice crucial to an effective piece of writing.

    1. Those contests are great exercises in paring things down to the core - including not just the story but the idea.