(Photograph courtesy of Amador Loureiro via Unsplash)
Landing on the right word, in any writing assignment, is fulfilling (we’ve all had that feeling), but what about all the other words?
Today, we’ll take a deep-dive into word variation and choice, looking at some insights and examples that will get our writing to a place where those right-word feelings are more and more common.
As this topic plays quite well with our previous updates, now would be an excellent time to go back for a quick refresher on both outlining and editing. Word choice and precise variation will make the anchors we create for outlines that much more expansive— some consider editing and word choice synonymous, but that’s a little too open-ended for us right now.
Let’s keep it simple and go through some of the basics.
Cold Opens | Don’t rely on easy words and phrases
As we go through our newly drafted writing sample, the number one, most common thing we will see are sentences that begin with “the” (or this, those, these, etc). It’ll be unavoidable in some situations, so we shouldn’t consider it to be off limits, but it does become tiresome to start every sentence this way— for both the reader AND the writer.
Consider opportunities to omit these words entirely, but when that doesn’t work, try adding a proper noun like the specific product or company name in its place.
KEEP Tense | circle target words
Since we’ve already read our latest drafts out loud, taking our time to note any places where the prose doesn’t flow quite right, or we get hung up on a word (all the stuff we talked about last week). We’ll now circle (or highlight) those words and sections, making them our focus for the purposes of this examination.
Quick aside, this skill came as a result of a writers’ group and works for nearly any genre, style, or type of writing.
Each of these marked words and phrases needs to first be identified for tense. Nine out of ten times, when a slip up occurs, it can be corrected with a quick shift to the correct tense. One more quick note, make sure every word that ends with “ing” is properly accounted for as it is pretty easy to get our tense thrown off course with these.
When tense isn’t the issue, research and experience will lead the way…
Voice | lives in our word choice
… It’s easy to forget that grammar is simply, “our species’ solution to the problem of getting complicated thoughts from one head into another,” (Pinker 79). Writing isn’t a science, it offers a variety of correct answers— that variety can be best understood as our individual style. Style lives in the word choices, the variations, and the instincts we have to identity that right word feeling. There are of course a bevy of rules and guidelines that will instruct our writing, but those things can’t separate us from the style of HOW we go about it.
Remember that the internet is our friend, so make sure to look up synonyms, and try to identify words that add specificity to an idea or sentence. This will often allow us to use fewer words to express the same thoughts. Create lists if necessary, even if we don’t end up changing the word, we will, at the very least, have a new rationale for why we kept it.
Ultimately, practice makes perfect and they say it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill. At least we know our number is going up!
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Pinker, Steven. The Sense of Style: the Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the21st Century. Penguin Books, 2015.