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Let me digress from word usage for a moment to write about carpenters. Carpenters use hammer and saws and screw drivers.There’s a great variety of hammers, just to select one tool, that carpenters can choose from depending on the task at hand. Among the various hammers are:

  • Curve Claw Hammer.
  • Rip Claw Hammer.
  • Framing Hammer.
  • Shingler’s Hammer.
  • Drywall Hammer.
  • Ball Peen Hammer.
  • Bricklayer’s/Tilesetter’s Hammer.
  • Rubber Mallet.

There are actually more subcategories of hammer,  but I’ll limit myself to these. You get the idea that one size does not fit all.

Let’s move on to word usage.

Our writing tools

In our writing craft, we memoirists use words as one of our primary tools. (Other tools are punctuation grammar, spelling [perhaps a subcategory of words rather than its own category?].) How like the carpenter with the right tool can we not be concerned with right word usage?

It stands that being able to handle words carefully, precisely and elegantly is necessary if we are to express ourselves clearly and pleasurably (for both ourselves and our readers). While nice will do when we are having  a superficial conversation with a sales clerk or a chatty neighbor, it will not do when presenting the reader with a favorite aunt who may be better described as nurturing, sympathetic, understanding or encouraging.

We must hone our word usage skills.

Of course, proper word usage is not only about precise vocabulary, it is also about avoiding clichés and stereotypes, about eschewing wrong usage (myth meaning lie comes unfortunately to mind), about omitting useless reinforcers (how more unique is very unique from unique or how earlier is first met from met?)

In conclusion

In this section, the Memoir Writer’s Blog offers suggestions about how we can handle words well and become better stewards of elegant and precise word usage

story collecting party

November 22: The Power of Using Specific Words in A Memoir

Using specific words in a memoir enables you to write a story with details that establish character and setting. Concentrate on nouns and verbs and discard any adjectives or adverbs that aren’t specific to the description, and your memoir will pull your reader in. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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Using Precise Language

More on Using Precise Language

Many memoir writers are under the impression that you need to have an extensive vocabulary to write. An extensive vocabulary can only help you–if by “extensive” you mean many precise words—not just “big” ones. More important is using precise language.

Precise words are specific

Precise words are specific and not vague and ineffective like nice, awful, big, OK. “She was nice” is vague. “She understands different points of view” is specific.

“He was awfully big” is vague. You might write instead: “My father measured six foot five and weighed 275 pounds.” Now that is using precise words! [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

Many memoir writers are under the impression that you need to have an extensive vocabulary to write. An extensive vocabulary can only help you–if by “extensive” you mean many precise words—not just “big” ones. More important is using precise language.

Precise words are specific

Precise words are specific and not vague and ineffective like nice, awful, big, OK. “She was nice” is vague. “She understands different points of view” is specific.

“He was awfully big” is vague. You might write instead: “My father measured six foot five and weighed 275 pounds.” Now that is using precise words! [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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writing precise words

Sweetheart, Are You Using Precise Words for Your Memoir?

Is writing precise words really important in a memoir?

Over the years, I have written energetically about the importance of writing precise words instead of generic ones.

I was dropping someone off at the bus station (aka the Intermodal Transportation Center) when I overheard an exchange that convinced me once again of the necessity for precision in speech–and, by extension, in our memoir writing. It was proof that generic words really do miss the mark and lead to confusing messages.

A grandmother was seeing her daughter (I presumed from the similarity of looks) and three grandchildren off—or perhaps it was the other way. The grandmother had said goodbye to the two girls and there was a boy of about 10 whom she had not yet bid her fond farewell to. He was looking around the space, distracted by this and that and not paying much attention to what was going on.

“Sweetheart,” the grandmother said, holding her arms out to hug him. The boy continued to look around elsewhere.

[Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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word re-inforcers

Watch out for Word Re-inforcers

Letting words mean what they mean…

In a previous post, I wrote about using words more precisely than we often do. Specifically, I pointed out redundant usages.

Today I would like to rant about a few other phrases that have come my way recently. I call them word re-inforcers. They are like redundant words but are focused on making words mean the same thing but more acutely.

[Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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Pathway to memoir writing

Don’t De-value Your Characters by Using Cliches and Stereotypes

Cliches and Stereotypes

Don’t devalue your characters by using cliches and stereotypes. This will undermine the unique and personal feel of your memoir. Cliches and stereotypes place people in categories. As short-hand ways of writing and speaking, they reflect ready-made thoughts and adversely affect the ways we relate to our families and friends as unique individuals.

  • “She was a mother-hen; You know how mothers are!”
  • “My father had a heart of gold.”
  • “Those were beautiful days when we were happy.”

[Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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right word

Word Lightning: the Right Word Will Dazzle Your Memoir’s Reader

Is choosing the right word really important in writing a memoir?

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” —Mark Twain

Lightning dazzles the eye. The sky is split open. Sometimes it makes our hair stand on end. A lightning bug, on the other hand, is a small, friendly flicker in our backyards, not enough light to illuminate even the smallest corner. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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writing with good grammar

Five Takes for Writing with Good Grammar

Memoir writers sometimes ask, “Is writing with good grammar important?”

Yes and no. To anyone beginning to write lifestories, I would caution, “Get your story down on paper and don’t worry about “good grammar”—at least, not at first.” [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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redundant word usage

Redundant word usage

Redundant word usage is rampant!

As a writer, I am chagrined when words get misused and one particular miscreant is redundant word usage.

Here are examples:

1. “As I re-listened to these interviews again…”

2. “That just my personal opinion!”

3. “Repeat again…”

4. “As a child, I was raised by parents who…”

5. “a personal friend”

These are phrases and sentences that I read or heard today (in the space of one hour!) [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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writing about difficult times in a memoir

Avoid Cliches and Stereotypes

You can avoid cliches and stereotypes.

If you do not avoid cliches and stereotypes, you will undermine the unique and personal feel of your memoir. Cliches and stereotypes place people in often erroneous and certainly indefensible categories. As short-hand ways of writing and speaking, they reflect ready-made thoughts and adversely affect the ways we relate to our families and friends as unique individuals and how we write about them.

“She was a mother-hen–you know how mothers are!”

“My father had a heart of gold.”

[Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]

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