A blogger named Revanche is doing a section-by-section review of my writing course on her website, A Gai Shan Life. In the second installment she mentioned being chided by another blogger for a vocabulary that is “far too extensive.”
While she knows that many writers aim for comprehension between the sixth and seventh grade level, she doesn’t want to do that. Revanche writes the way she thinks.
“Using precise words to communicate is so satisfying,” she says. “Even when I sound like a nerd.”
Myself, I use words that feel right. That is, words that fit both the sentence and the meaning I’m trying to convey.
Mark Twain said that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. As I note in the writing course, the right word will light up the page. The almost-right word barely registers.
That’s not to say you should write as though someone gave you a word-a-day calendar for Christmas. Instead, use language that goes beyond the basics.
A stop sign is red. But slice into a stalk of rhubarb and you’ll get maroon juices, not red drops. A really bad sunburn is crimson (at least until it blisters). The inside of a Jersey tomato is the color of blood, but the flesh of a blood orange is more akin to ruby than hemoglobin.
Look it up!
Bloggers are right to worry about numbers. What good is writing if no one reads it? And since so many sites exist, getting readers can be tough even if you’re writing in a popular niche.
You might want to avoid heavily technical lingo (unless your site is specifically aimed at others in your industry) and you definitely want to avoid jargon. But don’t be afraid to write the way you think. If your word choice is unusual, one of two things will happen:
- People will understand it because of the context in which it’s used, or
- People will look it up.
(About that last: A reader of my personal website commented that some of my posts send her to a dictionary. In a good way.)
And yes, a third thing might happen: Readers who are consistently challenged could quit visiting your site. That’s no reason to dumb-down your work. The difference between the right audience and the almost-right audience is the difference between writing what’s true to you and pandering for pageviews.
Let your writing reflect your inner voice. Have fun with words, and think of blogging as your chance to share something too good to keep to yourself. It isn’t always a cakewalk, but few things worth doing are consistently easy.