Writing is Like Making a Salad

Word Salad“Word Salad.”

That’s the term we used recently with my 87-year old mother when she struggled to find the right words to express her thoughts. She wanted to ask, “How old are the ducks swimming in the bay?”  But instead it came out as, “How cold are the dogs . . . “ and quickly corrected herself. “No, that’s not right.” She pointed.

Given that the temps were in the 80s, I doubted she was asking about body temperature—and there were no dogs swimming in the water—only a flock of mallards somewhere between ducklings and full-grown adults.

When the right words don’t show up in her brain, her frustration mounts—and who wouldn’t get frustrated when what you want to say is coming out all garbled, fuzzy, and incoherent?

“Word Salad,” we joke lightly at such moments. “Mom, sometimes it’s hard to find the right word.”

My mom laughs. “Yes! That’s true!”

Her challenge, of course, with finding the right word is exacerbated by her illness.

We’re heading soon to our friends’ organic farm to help pick produce. We’ll pick sugar snap peas and green beans. We’ll pick romaine lettuce, kale, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. Before we’re done, we’ll lift netting meant to keep birds away from ripe raspberries and pick those, too.

When we return we’ll put our produce to good use.

There are an infinite number of ways to put produce together to make a salad. The secret is adding fresh, crisp, colorful, savory ingredients. Don’t overpower the basic ingredients with too much dressing. Let the ingredients carry the flavor.

Without precise words that express our intended meaning, we risk losing our readers to confusion or boredom.

We must pick our words with care. We must make our words clear and crisp—savory as a plate of sliced Heirloom tomatoes topped with chopped basil—fresh from the garden.

Without the right words, our writing too, can easily turn into a word salad.

Words matter.