Writing New

One of the hardest tasks for a writer – at least for me – is to write new.

If I’m not careful, I find myself in the company of my darlings without any desire to kill them. And even when I think I pay attention, they still pay me insidious visits.

I thought I had found a good way to avoid the common trap: writing different genres for different age groups.

But regardless of this deliberate choice, a librarian, a cop, a French character, a teacher, an immigrant tends to poke her or his nose through my stories.

Besides characters, vocabulary plays tricks on me. Everyone has favorites, but with words I’ve got to be vigilant. In one of my manuscripts, now ready for submission, my latest reader noticed that I had used the verb “morph” four times throughout the 260 pages.

Four times doesn’t look so bad in comparison to so many other words that, of course, I used many more times. Yet my friend had a valid point. I used “morph” too often, although the verb has several synonyms, which would have worked as well.

After the “morph” episode, I was on the lookout. Not only for my work but also for my critique group members’ writing pieces. Sure enough I noticed that each of them played also favorites with the dictionary.

Even the only one who writes in free verse and is the most demanding – her goal is to tell/show more with less words – gave preferred treatment to a few beloved words.

More than laziness – which I would never use to describe writers’ behavior – our word choice represents us, not only as writers but also as individuals.

While I realized that I was using “morph” one too many times in my manuscript, I also realized that the writing I was doing then about my immigration journey was a morphing experience. I had after all morphed from the 100% French I used to be to the almost 100% American I became.

I’m no shrink, but beyond the theme of our stories, beyond the setting we pick, the characters we develop, the style we chose, and the voice we search for – that last one is the hardest to find, isn’t it? – the words we use, and sometimes favor without noticing, tell a lot about who we are.

When I was learning English, I used to copy words that I met while reading in a notebook: unknown words, of course, that I would later translate with my dictionary, but also words that I liked, either for their meaning, their sound – even pronounced by me, they still sounded beautiful – or their spelling.

I abandoned my notebook when I became more proficient.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have.

So I just added a summer challenge to my already long to-do list: on top of trying my best to create and keep up with an intriguing plot, likeable characters, vivid scenes, and meaningful dialogues for a young adult novel I am drafting, I will also return to my notebook.

It’s a lesson in humility. The more advanced writer knows how to vary her vocabulary, the work-in-progress writer doesn’t (yet).

But, as always, there is a silver lining.  Hunting for words = reading lots of books.




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