Tuesday, April 24, 2018

When Writers Work to Find the Right Words

by Eva Marie Everson @EvaMarieEverson

Good writers read the works of great writers. And, we typically have the ones we prefer over all others. If we can find a book written by our favorites, written for the sheer purpose of explaining their writing or reading life, we have then struck gold. 

Let me let you in on a little “secret:” I have a “thing” for bookstores. I can walk past a large chain with price clubs and the flavors of expensive coffee meandering through the stacks (although I rarely do), but I cannot—no, I will not—allow myself to miss the opportunity of stepping into an independent bookstore, usually narrow in structure with hardwood floors and rich with a select group of titles, and old, overstuffed chairs placed cattycorner to create reading nooks. The only coffee you’ll be offered there comes from a coffeemaker and is served entirely too strong in castoff mugs purchased for a dollar at thrift stores.

Speaking of which—I also like perusing thrift stores in search of books—old and new. And let my eyes catch sight of a bookstore dedicated to used books, and you’d think I’d just spotted the Hope Diamond. 

I simply love books. At least three times a year I pinkie swear that I will not under any circumstances buy another book, I don’t care how badly I want to read it and I don’t care how cheap it is or rare it is or lovely it is—until—I say to myself—I read all the books already filling baskets or placed in stacks on the floor, just waiting to be adored by my reading eyes. Of course I break that promise twice as often as I make it, telling myself that if a vow made with oneself is broken, then its okay. Especially if the book is by Pat Conroy. And especiallyif that book is about his reading life. 

And so it was that I recently happened into a thrift store while waiting for the nearby restaurant my husband and I had chosen for lunch to open. I went straight back to the bookshelves finding the treasures were not shelved by genre or by author’s last name but by the color of the cover. I kid you not. I found My Reading Life by Pat Conroy with the blue-colored hardbacks for $1.99. First edition. Pristine shape. Apparently whoever purchased it originally for $25 had no clue the value of the text. Or that I would practically cradle it every morning while reading from the wisdom found therein.

Ah,Pat Conroy. Even the dedication he penned caused my heart to ache for all that he lost in life and all that we lost when he died too soon, leaving those of us who yearn to write like him knowing we never can or will. Today, as I sipped my morning coffee and read a chapter, I found words that at the very least made me feel that maybe—perhaps—there could be a semblance in the method to our madness.

In the book, Mr. Conroy speaks of how he has been the lover of words since boyhood. Of how he keeps books and pores over them when he is searching for just the right one to use in his work. He tells of his boyhood meeting of the “poet laureate of South Carolina, Mr. Archibald Rutledge,” who taught him to detail his writing (A Cherokee rose, not just a rose.) and his beloved English teacher, Mr. Gene Norris, who him that to be boring is not just a sin; it’s a crime. 

This morning, after my reading and coffee time, I sauntered into my office to work on a novel that has tickled my imagination for long enough now and is begging to be written. I’d managed to get about 10,000 words of it on paper before I realized I had no idea where the thing was going, so I quit writing and started reading, hoping the works of truly good writers would rub off. 

I think it may be working.

To restart the process, I went back and read what I’d already written and discovered a few errors along the way. But mostly, because of Mr. Conroy’s book about the books and the people and the characters who had shaped him, I found that sometimes I had, in effect, called a rose simply a rose rather than a Cherokee. Or that I had written lines in such a boring manner, even I yawned as they waved to me from the page.

For example: And to sit with friends on warm summer evenings, waiting for the sun to set and the lightning bugs to emerge.

The idea of the sun setting seemed too … cliché. The sun sets. Of course it does. But, still …

So I changed the word set to ease toward the horizonwhich I immediately deleted because “ease” is one of my “catch words” (writers will know what I mean). I closed my eyes and pictured the character sitting in the yard swing … the night closing in around her … the sun sliding …


I typed in the word. Then deleted it. No, still too cliché. 

After a few more attempts, I settled on dipBut I added some additional words because, in my mind’s eye, the character is looking toward the west, where a line of tall pines are a natural part of her Southern landscape, but which also obstruct her view of the horizon. Were she living on a farm, then perhaps she would watch it nightly as it slid beneath the blanket of a cornfield, but she doesn’t. She lives in town. In suburbia. In a quaint neighborhood dotted with houses and lined with cone-bearing trees. 

The line ended up as: And to sit with friends on warm summer evenings, waiting for the sun to dip behind the line of tall, dark pines and the lightning bugs to emerge.

As a writer who is never fully satisfied, I know I could—should I so desire—beat the living daylights out of that line. But, truthfully, I like it pretty good. And so it shall stand.

Good writers read the works of great writers in hopes of becoming better at their craft. They pore over words. They store them in notebooks and in their heart and allow them to rest on the tip of their tongue, often unspoken. They wrestle with them as they fill the pages of Word docs and the lines of journals. And, eventually, they settled on them, even as they come back time and again to wrestle with them some more. 

That’s what good writers do. We wrestle with our words. 

Fight on. 

When writers work to find the right words - @EvaMarieEverson (Click to Tweet)

Good writers wrestle to find the right words - @EvaMarieEverson (Click to Tweet)

Best-selling, award-winning author Eva Marie Everson is the president of Word Weavers International, the director of Florida Christian Writers Conference, and the contest director for Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Her latest novel, The One True Love of Alice-Ann (Tyndale), released April 1, 2017.


  1. Ms. Eva Marie, today's post is the best explanation as to why writers are considered artists I've seen. Your writing paints a picture ma'am. One of a sweet, genteel, yet proud Southern woman who masterfully works to define the canvas of each page. From that refined base, she applies multiple layers of words as they come alive through her masterful ministrations. Oh what joy it was to read your post this morning. Thank you for the wonderful example you set ma'am. God's blessings...

  2. Spot on, Eva Marie. Thanks for this and for being so many of our's Conroy.

    1. I cannot even come CLOSE to Conroy! But thank you! :)

  3. Good words. We must always be on the lookout for those special words and phrases. Donevy~

    1. Indeed. Like Conroy, I have a notebook of them ... when I die, I'm afraid my children will be embarrassed to know how many words I DIDN'T know! :)

  4. The struggle to find the right words is real.The payoff when we do is priceless.
    Lovely post, Eva Marie.
    And hurray for independent bookstores!

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you, Julie. Blessings to you and your sweet mama!

  6. Your thought process reminds me of how I write. I ponder over each and every word, then every sentence, each paragraph, and so on. And I've always wondered why it takes me so long to write a book.

  7. Sheer agony!! Don't you love it??? :)

  8. It's not what you say, it's how you say it! Thank you for this!

  9. I love this, Eva. Thanks for your beautiful visual. While the struggle to find the right words is real, I look at this example and see how it proves you care about your readers. I want to learn and grow in this craft with hope I won't be that boring writer. My goal is to become a thoughtful writer. Like you, I can't resist trips to thrift stores or antique markets in search of rare treasures. On occasion, I've discovered first edition hardbacks bound in leather or fabric. I usually wait until I'm out of the shop before I do my version of the happy dance. Since I don't have much rhythm, people always stare (probably wondering if I had a seizure). BTW, you are a Conroy. :)

  10. I love the part how you sat and closed your eyes and imagined... Great word, great article.. as always, Thanks Eva for the insight!