Writing Exercise: finding the RIGHT words

The words we write, say to ourselves and to others influence our lives. I have been witnessing this most profoundly in my 3-year-old grandson’s vocabulary, which is extensive. He can order politely in a restaurant, explain events in great detail and retell a story down to the last “and they lived happily ever after”. When he is most verbal he gets much attention because he has cognitive words coming out of a small package of a human. He gets preferred attention and favors. Sometimes he gets idolized. 

His vocabulary is how he is judged.

Where most boys his age are grunting and knocking things down (he has spells of that behavior too) he is complimenting the Chef on the Crème Brulee.  He is judged by his words and he enjoys the mastery of it. We learn a couple of new words every day and it has helped my writing as much as his preschool swagger.

From the website, Advice to Writers, JACQUES BARZUN gives this wonderful quote: “You must attend to words when you write, when you speak, when you read. Words must become ever present in your waking life, an incessant concern, like color and design in graphic arts or pitch and rhythm if it is music, or speed and form if it is athletics”.
Bigger is not always better, it is the right usage of the words that impress. You should not get too focused on the thesaurus (one of my editors is always telling me “Back away from the Thesaurus, Teri”), but focus on building your vocabulary so you are using the right word for the right rhythm and theme to your story. For a great example of this, read authors who are short on their prose and big on getting the most out of each word like Amy Hempel and Ernst Hemmingway.
As Mark Twain wrote and Jimmy Buffett sang, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
It is about the right word and not the most impressive word. I have been writing my food column every week now for 8 years. That’s over 420 columns on food and in each description I must find a different word for delicious. Every now and then I think I have run out of adjectives, but then I do comparative descriptions using texture, sight and smell and I am back in the game again. It is not easy and I constantly read my compatriots work (cookbooks, travel books, lifestyle articles) to find new ways to say, “it was delicious”.
What does writing with shorter words do for prose? Paula LaRocque, author of The Book on Writing theorizes that the exercise forces writers to use simple, familiar words. When writers are nervous or want to impress, they often choose bigger words, and bigger themes or stories to match them. In doing this, they try to anticipate what will impress their reader and stave off criticism, when in reality, simple, direct prose is generally much more powerful.”
The stuff we know best usually has a simple name. For example, basic words such as bed, earth, stars, bone, yard, house are all simple words, but they’re also rich with emotional potential. In limiting ourselves to monosyllabic words, we force ourselves to adhere more closely to direct, personal experiences.

Writing Exercise:
Write a story of 100 words using only one-syllable words. Make it something familiar and it will be much easier. Send it to me if you would like and make sure to share this lesson with friends and potential writers. Have fun!