On a Journey to Find the Right Words

“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”

~Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

It is a common story.

The dedicated writer, after a long day spent fulfilling other commitments, finally sits down at his desk.  The faithful pen works its way into his hand and waits for the movement, the usual flick of the wrist that will plunge him into the piles and piles of words that have lately been growing in his mind. The room is dark and cool. The numbers on the clock tell of some late, unspeakable hour of the night. That is normal. The words come when they come. The writer can only hope to catch them in rare, fleeting moments like these.

Something haunts the writer this night. It hovers over his shoulder: a great cloud above him. He captures and holds it like a distant memory. It sits somewhere between reality and the great, open vastness of the heavens.

It is a story. A beautiful story, waiting patiently for him to only formulate the right words.

But oh, to write such a story as this! It is a task for the gods.

And yet, it exists. This story has formed inside the writer’s head and is as real as the blank paper before him. It lives in his thoughts. It breathes life and vision, color and description. The man closes his eyes and gropes with his mind- trying desperately to clutch at this story and turn it into something he can put down on paper.

This story is… What is this story? How to describe this story?

What words could do it justice, could capture the essence of this story like the flash of a camera stealing the fragments of a moment right out of the air? What tiny scribbles can this pen make that can recreate something I have conjured up in my mind that is so completely vivid and yet virtually indescribable? Am I setting out of a pointless venture- a venture to find the right words? Do the right words even exist?

These are all questions that have passed my mind from time to time. As writers, it is our job to find the right words. It is our speciality. But we do not always succeed in our ambitions.

Too often have I failed in my endeavor to tell the untold story. Too often have I fallen short of describing what has truly been whispered in my heart. Too often have I gasped in the dead of night, having seen the right words floating in front of my waking eyes, and too often have I reached forward and grabbed nothing.

But still there have been times when I pieced together handfuls of words and emerged with something whole, beautiful, complete. There have been stories and people and places born from my mind who leapt from it onto my writing pad with ease. These I keep with me. They have carried me through dark times when the wrong words came disguised as the right words, and the perfect stories disintegrated in my fingers like ash.

We are, as a race, on a journey to find the right words- to tell someone how much we love them. To describe our passions. To explain our hopes and dreams. And the truth of the matter is- sometimes the right words don’t exist. There are some thoughts, some feelings, some ideas that simply cannot be explained, for their value and meaning stretches beyond the capacity of storytelling into the realm of all that which cannot be told. All that is too immense to compact and fit into something as tiny and simple as the written word.

We as writers fear this realm. And yet, my friends, it is not something to be feared. It is life. There are always going to be words- the wrong words, the right words, and the words that only scrape the surface of that which they are trying to describe. The words that don’t exist are very real, too.

Once you realize this, the world is yours.

So yes, I am a writer. I am on a journey to find the right words. I suppose I will have to scour the earth many times over – but if I do find them, I will hold them in my hands like jewels, smash them to a dust and throw their remains to the wind in the hopes that it will carry them to the places they are needed.

I set out on this grand and worthy quest- a life of telling stories- with a light and hopeful heart. I am a chaser of words and ideas, a hunter of stories and a whisperer of tales. So if, when I come to the end of my years, I discover that I was trailing nothing but a vision, I will have no regrets; for the pursuit of words brings me joy, and joy is what transforms an ordinary life into one of full of daring adventures and exciting discoveries.


2 thoughts on “On a Journey to Find the Right Words

  1. Natalie,

    Each of us must make our own way- as a writer and an individual. I can say though that for me the idea of “searching for the right words” has been not so helpful. I have labored many hours to create pages and pages of writing- published work- “well regarded” in its field. Good and worthy writings.

    But I only began to write in a personally meaningful way once I stopped searching and working and let the writing come to me. Not tethered to any ambition or the sense of what was expected of me.

    I stil spend hours adrift, unable to write. But when I am ready, I just write. Just writing. What I feel, what’s true.

    You are a brilliant writer already. But I am wondering whether your most magnificent work might come when you stop the search and let it come.

    But most importantly, you choose your own way in this work. What feels right to you.


    1. Tom, once again your advice is meaningful and beautifully captures the truth of being a writer. The best stories are not the ones we search for – but rather, the ones that find us. I am often pleasantly surprised by the words that work their way into my mind with a will to be set down on paper.

      Wow, such a profound statement. “When I am ready, I just write. What I feel, what’s true.” There is so much meaning packed into those few words. “Just writing” truly is a beautiful act, isn’t it? It is in those moments I enjoy writing the most.

      Thank you very much, Tom. Know that I take your words to heart.


Thoughts? I love those.

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