Authors often speak of the satisfaction of finding the right word. What we’re less interesting in discussing is the corresponding sense of frustration when the right word eludes us. I’m not sure whether this search is any harder for me than for anyone else, as it’s not exactly easy to test. I do know it happens to me sometimes in speech, especially when I’m stressed. I think my occasional mild aphasia might be hereditary, though in my mother it actually manifests as malapropisms: hence her references to the ‘stigmata of a flower’, ‘going for a breast monogram’ and breaking the heel of her shoe in King’s Cross tube station whilst ‘going up the alligator’. I also know that my inability to find the word I want can combine with my dislike of writing first draft to paralyse me. I can waste precious minutes staring up through the garret skylight (is the word up there in the clouds? No it is not, Jaine) or leafing through my thesaurus, by which time whatever came after that damn elusive word has leaked out of my brain.
One of the lessons I’m still learning is when to let myself make do with the wrong word. When the only word I can find is so far off the mark it makes me cringe, I put it (or the phrase I want to express as a single word) into square brackets; that way at rewrite time if I’m not paying attention – which I should be, but mistakes will always slip past – then I’ve something to remind me to deal with the problem. I don’t always find exactly the right word even when I come back to the text, but I think I nail most of the suckers eventually. The important thing is that I haven’t let the search for a single uncooperative word put a stop to the rest of them.
Parish notices: firstly, I’m away in the wilds of the West Country for a week from tomorrow, and if, as I suspect, it’s so wild that there’s no net access, not much will occur here (including approving any comments, for which I apologise in advance). Secondly, you lucky people have another chance to attend Liz Williams’ excellent genre writing course, this time in London, on 20th and 21st March.
If in doubt, the correct word is always ‘Yibble’.