Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Holy Grail of Writing—Finding the Right Word

by Edie Melson

We’re writers, so it’s a given that we’re word people.

For most of us it goes way beyond just a love of words. Writing is the way we process the world around us. As a matter of fact, I was having a discussion with someone who was bemoaning the fact that I’m nearly as nice in person as I am on paper.

Unfortunately she’s right. I’m not.

It’s not that I don’t try, I really do. But I need the opportunity to filter my words through the act of putting them on paper first.

And that brings me to the point of this post. How do we find that perfect word when we’re trying to convey something on paper? Today I want to share how I go about searching for that elusive holy grail of writing.

1. The Thesaurus. I know, this is kind of a no-brainer. But I’m amazed at the number of writers who skip this step. I have a physical thesaurus on the shelf above my desk, but more often than that, I use an online version. My favorite is Thesaurus.com. 

2. The Dictionary. It’s not as easy to use as a thesaurus, but sometimes I’ll thumb through the pages and find just what I’m looking for. 

3. The Emotion Thesaurus. This reference book from Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman should be in every writer’s library. They have two new books out as well, The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus. You can find out all about them at Writers Helping Writers

4. Facebook & Twitter. You can ask for word suggestions by posting the request on social media. This will not only get you what you’re looking for, but up your visibility and interaction on social media (always a good thing).

5. Free Writing. Sometimes nothing beats old-fashioned pen and paper. I start writing around what I want to say and I come up with some pretty amazing stuff.

These are the things I do when the just-right word evades my catch. What do you do when the cat’s got your tongue?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!




  1. Reading what others have to say helps me start thinking and sometimes processes things in a different direction. You just gave me an idea for a post about words. You are so right about how what we say can be different than what we write. We can hit the delete button if we write something we want to change (as long as it's not published yet), not so after it comes out the mouth!

    1. Barbara, great insight! Thank you for stopping by, Blessings, E

  2. I love to make up words using a reference that resonates with the audience I'm addressing. If they grew up watching silly cartoons in the 70's and 80's, instead of calling an iPad Air a "techie" instrument, I might call it "Jetsonian."

    1. Sherry, love that! Thanks so much for sharing, Blessings E

  3. Oh to train everyone I come in contact with to give me a moment to edit my thoughts...Oh to train myself to take the time to think before I speak...

  4. I love my Flip Dictionary. It is a thesaurus but with extra listings.

  5. I use the thesaurus to find a similar word, and then hit that word until I find just the right one. I wish I had one planted in my brain so I won't get so tongue tied when speaking!! In writing we get to go back and redo. I also love the Emotional thesaurus, which is brilliant!!

  6. I have a thematic dictionary which has been fantastic for me when I know what I want to say but not the right word