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A few months ago, I received an email from a woman in Norway who told me she planned to take time off from her executive career to write a book on leadership. “I plan to travel to Boston for two months to write my book and work with you.” By our next email, she had bought her plane tickets.
I wasn’t quite sure how I would help an author writing in another language. I could not be her editor. But her certainty that this would work won me over. And the collaboration has been both exciting and satisfying.
When we get together to discuss the book, I have discovered that she writes in a combination of English and Norweigan. I wondered why.
“English has so many words for almost anything”–each with its specific nuances. For emotions, for example, Norweigan offers just the basics, while English presents so many different options, each with their nuanced expression.
One of the things I love about writing and editing is searching for “le bon mot” — that perfect word which conveys so much with so little.
When an author writes, “He went…” I invite him to get specific about how: Did the person walk or run? More specifically, how did he walk? Did he saunter? Meander? Hobble? Sprint? Your verb choice can take an abstract notion “went” and make the action leap off the page: It becomes real for your reader. They can picture it, smell it, taste it, sense it.
We sometimes take for granted what a flexible and rich language we have, offering vast choices that can give our writing depth, overtones, subtlely and vivid expression.
Shakespeare, of course, was a master of this. By contrast, the modern directive to “write for an eighth grade vocabulary” can inflict the damage of pressuring more and more words into disuse.
While you don’t want to use arcane words for a trade book meant for a wide audience, I encourage you to play with what you see as the limits. Push on them just a little when a less common word truly does offer more clarity of meaning.
Avoid shorthand with your verb choice, too. The more a verb brings the action to life, the more you draw your readers in–whether you are writing a memoir, a novel, an anecdote for a self help book or a blog post.
So, tell me, what do you love about the English language? What’s one of your favorite words? What questions do you have on how to write well? Or what tips can you share?