I received a question the other day about how to find the best words to describe something, a person, feelings, anything.
While that question made me think I should explore my passion for linguistics and languages in my content, —which I decided to do very soon—, for now, I want to try to simply answer that question.
So, how do you find the right words?
You know, first of, it’s said that Gustave Flaubert, the author of Madame Bovary and many other beautiful works of the 19th Century French literature, used to pay so much attention to his diction and the cadences of his prose, that sometimes we’d spend a week to finish one page. As opposed to Dickens and other popular English novelists.
This makes me rethink the question I’ve made this weekend on Instagram… Every madness has a method and time for it.
Anyway, I’m saying this because, if timing is crucial for you, maybe you don’t want to be so obsessed with finding the prefect words, but if you do, realize that it can take months and years, and a lot of effort.
So, here are three great way for you to find the right words:
1. Read a lot and take notes of everything you find interesting
This one is easy, and if you want to be a writer, you have to read an effing lot. That’s given. That’s rule number one for writing.
So, you read a wonderful description in a book? You loved it? Break the text into nouns, adjectives, nuances, context. Take note, make a list.
2. Navigate the dictionary and devour your favorite words
If the books you read aren’t enough to give you a great vocabulary—which I sincerely doubt—, a dictionary is your second best friend here.
Now, I would actually dive into online dictionaries where you can find an infinite thesaurus, sentence usage list, collocations, related words and expressions faster (that’s one of my favorite things), and, again, take notes and make lists.
I use all the usual dictionaries that appear in the top of Google searches, but I particularly love Collins’s and MacMillan’s websites. The first one because it is so complete and easy to navigate, and the second one because of its rich “related words” part. I love it. I learn a lot from it.
3. Know your audience
Now, the other two above are nothing if you don’t know who you’re writing to, and I guess this is the most important tip I want to give you today.
You don’t want to write and sound like you had swallowed a dictionary and just use beautiful words for nothing. When you write something to publish, you want a reader, and you want them to understand you. Otherwise, your writing is useless.
Sometimes, you just have to use plain language because your reader doesn’t know those words you want to use.
You want to write something your reader can relate to. If you only use words in your writing that people don’t use in their daily lives, you’re just missing the opportunity to reach them because what you write doesn’t sound familiar.
I mean, it’s wonderful to be eloquent. I love that. Not only that, but I’m also a compulsive word hoarder. But I’ve learned that when you use words that are close to the tongue of your reader, you touch their hearts, and when you use complex words, you just confuse their minds, or worse, you make them stop reading what you wrote to look up your words in the dictionary, which I love because I’m a nerd, but not everyone would appreciate doing that all the time.
So, yea, be aware of those things, and I hope I have helped you somehow.
Between the lines, tell me what you think… How do you find the right words to write?