Le Mot Juste (Again)


Yesterday marked my third anniversary in the blogosphere. (Really? How can that be possible?) As I’m on the road today, I’ve selected an item from my beginning days to re-post. I hope you’ll find this piece from the summer of 2008 of interest.


I was blog-hopping recently, searching out my daily dose of writerly wisdom, and came across a comment made by the editor of Author Magazine that stuck with me. Referring to the meaning of the phrase le mot juste, the perfect word, Bill Kenower said, “Mathematicians agree on 12 x 12, physicists agree on gravity—why can’t we [writers] agree on something? Why can’t we agree there is at least one perfect phrase or word?”

But, of course, that will never happen. Even wresting a well-known word from my brain so I can utter it to the paperboy is a frustrating exercise some days, so expecting to find the exact word or phrase to perfectly convey a specific thought to every potential reader is beyond imagination.

I’ve come to the conclusion that in the world of writing there is not much writers fully agree upon. There is so much well-intentioned advice available, but no single approach to the craft that works for every person.

I’m told the best time to write is (a.) in the morning when my mind is fresh;  (b.) in the quiet of the night when there are no interruptions. The best place to write is (a.) sequestered in my office without distractions; (b.) in a coffee shop, bus or library surrounded by stimulation. The best way to write is (a.) with pen or pencil and paper for visceral involvement with my words; (b.) with wordprocessor or computer for quick capture of ephemeral thoughts and ease of editing.

I am encouraged to (a.) create first and worry about crafting later; (b.) ensure each word, sentence and paragraph is the right building block for what will follow. I am advised to (and as admonitions go, this is one of my favourites) (a.) follow the rules if I ever hope to get published; (b.) break all the rules if doing so serves my purpose.

Agreement is a fragile commodity in today’s world so perhaps it’s not surprising that writers cannot find it within their communities of communication. For writers, the perfect word will always be just out of reach.

How do you counteract the frustration when you’re not able to find just the word you need? 


Photo by graur codrin