Made, Bad, or Borrow: Finding Just the Right Word in Your Writing

No, this article will not actually tell you how to find the “right” word. Instead, I will try to convince you that the right word is the one that you want to write anyway. In other words, writing is about voice-your voice-and about communication, in a way that is uniquely you. We all end up imitating the writers that we have read or that we like and admire, but we also adopt and borrow styles from multiple authors, so that the mishmash that is our voice ends up to be something unique and distinctive. And that is a good thing. No matter what your teacher says.

If you don’t believe me that voice is important, consider my own reading habits. When I go to read about politics, I am just as likely to read David Brooks as I am Paul Krugman. I don’t agree with David Brooks on a multitude of issues, but I like the way he writes, the way he constructs his arguments, and the way he crafts his sentences. The voice draws me back to him, and I learn about writing by reading him.

In the same way, I love reading Cormac McCarthy, a novelist with a very distinctive voice, very different from David Brooks, indeed. McCarthy is the author of The Road, and he’s, well, great. I love the way he writes, whether it’s about How to construct great arguments Mexico in the 1930s or about a post-apocalyptic family. Some people hate his style, though. See B. R. Meyers’s A Reader’s Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose for someone who hates the style or voice of Cormac McCarthy.

Voice is important, and it should be unique, which means that when you are searching for a word to use, simply write the word down. Maybe there isn’t a perfect word, or maybe you don’t know it. And if you don’t know it, that means it isn’t your word, or your voice. Instead, rewrite it to use a word that you do know. If that means that you have to rework the entire sentence, then do it.


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