About Me

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Hello! I'm a writer from central New York who has bipolar disorder. Among other topics, I write about mental illness and writing. I have short stories published in Lynx Eye, Lost Coast Review, The Outrider Review, Sliver of Stone Magazine, The Mondegreen, The Linnet's Wings, Cobalt Review, Breath & Shadow, The Round Up, Postscripts to Darkness, Masque & Spectacle, and several other journals. I have a poem in The Poeming Pigeon, essays about mental illness in The Ram Boutique and Amygdala Literary Magazine, and an essay in Parts Unbound: Narratives of Mental Illness & Health, a book that was published by Lime Hawk Literary Arts Collective. My story "Santa Lucia" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I've written three novels entitled Purple Loosestrife, Hoping It Might Be So, and Dark and Bright, all of which are as yet unpublished. I'm working on a memoir about my experiences with bipolar disorder. I have a B.A. in English from SUNY Buffalo and an M.A. in English from SUNY College at Brockport. I hope you enjoy your visit to my blog!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hitting on the Right Word

I love when I'm writing or editing and hit on just the right word for a sentence. Today I hit on the word "opulent" to describe an ornate fireplace, and I felt ridiculously good about it. I'm not saying it's brilliant or even remarkable, but it just felt to me as though it worked, and that felt good. I hope my editor and readers will agree!

It can be tough to find the right words overall, but sometimes especially tough to find a single right word. It's as if a sentence is stuck in a rut and you need a word to give it more punch, but you can't quite find it. Often, it's on the tip of your brain, but you just can't quite access it.

I use a thesaurus sparingly, and often just to get an idea of some other words that are synonyms for my word. The thesaurus gets my brain moving. I use it sparingly because I think when a writer relies on it too much, the writing shows that and runs the risk of becoming purple prose. Finding a different word all the time--what might be perceived as a new and exciting word--can be a dangerous proposition. First of all, that new and exciting word might not have exactly the meaning you intend (the English language is filled with many shades of meaning), or it might just come off as pretentious. So my advice is not to get addicted to the thesaurus, but to use it as one of many resources.

Sometimes free writing can bring to mind the word you're looking for. Or just daydreaming and letting your mind wander through forests of words until you discover the right one. And sometimes, you've got to set the work aside, and when you pick it up again, the word will come to you. And when it does, it's usually very much worth it. And it will leave you feeling ridiculously good. Another piece of advice I can give is to read a novel, a poem, or a nonfiction piece when you're looking for a word. You might come upon it, or else it will just come to you while you're reading something that you really admire that's written excellently.

Whatever you do, I wish you great words in the right places! And I wish you good feelings about what you write, whatever it might be.


  1. Interesting post. I agree. I avoid using the thesaurus; I try to make my brain work and dig out what I need.
    Mary S. Palmer
    BAITING THE HOOK (Nov. 30 release date)

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head, Emily, when you say you use a thesaurus just for ideas, otherwise your prose can sound overdone. Yes, I find that daydreaming often produces the right word. Or just time - sometimes coming back to that section of your writing a day or two later brings up the apposite word. That just happened to me with a blurb and tagline I was sweating over.

  3. Excellent point, Emily. I often just type XXX and keep on writing. I might mull over a particularly special blank while folding laundry or fixing dinner. Other times, when I re-read the scene later in the day, or the next day, the right word is often just waiting there for me. If I don't do this, the search for the right word can really derail my story train or pressure me to settle.

  4. Your idea about reading fiction, poetry, nonfiction to spark your word reserve is great. When i read a word or combination of words which make me really take notice, i jot it or them down. When I'm stuck sometimes I leaf through my very unorganized batch of special words, and that often sparks my brain to create just the right word or words for myself. If that fails, and it often does, I run the vacuum cleaner. Yes you heard me right. Something about that mindless activity gets my creative juices going and up pops just the right word or phrase, also story ideas.

  5. Thank you all for your replies, observations, and tips (love the vacuum cleaner idea, Lizz!). I'm glad you enjoyed my post!

  6. Don't mean to be a pest, but I really, really, really want to win!