Choosing the Right Word

Many years ago, I enthusiastically sat down in my first creative writing class at San Diego State to wait for the instructor to begin his class.

I was ready for my new venture in life—be it successful and profitable, or not. I opened up my new paper writing pad and sat back. (There were no electronic tablets or sleek laptops back then; only clunky desktops that were hardly portable from home.)

As the professor stepped to the lectern, we all pivoted to alert and focus. He slowly looked over the class and asked if we were all there to study creative writing techniques. We heartily responded affirmatively with eager nods and positive signals – demonstrating as authors in waiting.

He began by explaining how he would get into basics, yet first, there was one special rule that would either ‘make or break us’ as we progressed with our new endeavors. We swiftly reached for our pencils. But he waved us off with a hand gesture, saying if we had to write it down, we’d probably fail to achieve. He suggested that this rule was something that had to be innately felt and immediately sensed and understood.

He then emphasized that his ‘success imperative’ was recognizing how to choose the right word. Keen writing and even everyday grammar depended on it. And how we must acquire the expertise to sort through pesky word choices to correctly achieve our point – whether it be formal or informal.

He mentioned there is no exact count of English words because the language is ever expanding, but it has been estimated that the vocabulary includes roughly one million words. Yet, realistically, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, includes some 470,000 ‘everyday’ entries.

He reiterated that effective authors and speakers not only succeed by keeping a dictionary and thesaurus at arm’s length but that this endeavor requires a special knack of knowing and applying constant self-training on how and when to choose that right word—and certainly where to find that word when needed.

During an energetic question and answer session concerning his necessary conduit for successful authoring, he pressed that expanding one’s vocabulary isn’t the only element that’s essential to enhancing their messaging ability, it’s also essential to use that vocabulary to ensure proper word usage.

He added that we all stumble with awkward word selection at one time or another. And we probably all have our list of pesky words that irk us whenever they’re used incorrectly by others; and finally that we must learn from all instances of sloppy communication.

Finishing, he asked the class that if they were convinced this course would be beneficial for their progress toward successful authoring, would they be eager or would they be anxious to continue attending?