Writer's Word Search
We all have words. Big words and small words and all those often taken-for-granted connector words that binds it all together into lovely sentences. As a poetry editor, I help other people get their words in order so that their core messages can be seen and heard and felt in each poem. I work with poets from all over the world and some of them astound me with their grasp on English vocabulary. It is often the ESL poets who have the widest vocabulary and use the most interesting and unique words in their work. I often keep a running list of new words these gifted poets teach me. While I work to polish their grammar, syntax, line lengths, and to develop their sensory imagery, I am learning too. This is the beauty of language, connecting people from across the globe.
Do you ever feel as a writer (or as a human) that your vocabulary has become a bit….well, stagnant? We learn our words from the people around us as we are growing up and often this limits us to the colloquialisms and grammar habits of our family and community. But there is so much untapped potential in language, that it helps us to continue learning and adding new words to our vocabulary.
Check out this list of words I made while editing one poetry collection from an African poet whose work I have come to admire:
I am consistently impressed by folks who have a lavish and extensive vocabulary. I, however, do not have a wide vocabulary and often find myself using the same core set of words over and over. This is an exercise that I do to hit the refresh button on my vocabulary bank.
It is so stupidly easy, that you may not have thought to do it before!
It is simply called : Word Search.
So, get out that pen with the fuzzy unicorn or the jingle bells on it or open a sticky note on your screen and get ready to type…we are going on a word hunt. Yes, kind of like a scavenger hunt, but with words. Like a virtual game you can play with yourself to further your own learning and expand your vocabulary. Sound fun? Well, humor me anyway.
This time I want you to go down a wormhole on the internet. Or in an old book of poetry. Or, *gasp* the newspaper.
Look through poems and prose of other writers…but do not READ them…
* * * search them * * *
Look through anything that interests you (STOP LOOKING AT THE PICTURES AND HEY…HEY…CLOSE YOUTUBE!) We are not looking for videos and memes; we are looking for words. Interesting ones. Ones that spark our curiosity or even better—words we have never seen before.
Ok, look. Look for words that reach out to you. Focus now, you are on a word hunt!
When is the last time you saw a word…and that word excited you? Just leapt off the page at you and grabbed your eyeballs and shook them?
Make a List
Keep a running list of interesting and new words, any words that may have a new sound, new meaning, new richness. Look for words that inspire you. Collect these words into a list and shovel them around into twos or threes.
Look for words that don’t seem to belong together or that present juxtaposition or friction. Also look for words that seem to be working together to go in a direction you can follow.
Perhaps divide them into nouns, verbs and descriptive words that you can go to when you are struggling for a word. (And never, ever write without a Thesaurus…but that’s another day, another blogpost.)
Keep this list for times when you struggle to find something new to write.
Next, Say Them Out Loud
The phonics of a word can inspire you just as much as the meaning or the visual presentation of the lettering. A word has a taste in your mouth, a musicality that is unique. Remember as a child finding a new word and saying it as many times as you could? Practicing your word to see how others would react to your new word. Maybe it was a dangerous word, or a really big one you struggled to remember or to articulate. As an adult, you still need this verbal excitement about words. As an adult, you can still enjoy the sound of a new word, even words that feel mundane can take on a new appreciation.
For example, I had a beloved English teacher in high school. He was a difficult teacher with a very eclectic personality. He played the piano and did so professionally when he wasn’t luring us into literary analysis and symbolism. He once came into the classroom and announced it was his birthday. He told us that he was going to play Happy Birthday to himself on the piano—and we were to sing to him. The song went on for many minutes and I am sure he used every single key on that keyboard. We were all stunned! Now, about words, this teacher had a favorite word. I remember him telling us this while we all stared at him like he’d lost his mind. He said it several times over, allowing the sounds to mesh and roll off his tongue. He closed his eyes.
We all thought that was a little crazy, but he was enjoying the pure sound of those words in a way that stayed with me in my mind. I don’t know if I have a favorite word or not, but the action of saying a word and learning how it feels to us can liven our vocabulary as much as learning new words.
A sample word list — read the words out loud and see how they sound—how they feel on the tip of your tongue.
If you’ve noted that these aren’t super-fancy words, be reminded that while schistosomiasis may be one of my favorite words, I rarely get to use it in my writing. It’s the smaller words we tend to build with and they must not bore us. I also keep lists of words that I have never seen before. See a word for the first time? Snatch it up!! Look it up!! Taste it on your tongue. Use it.
Feeling inspired to find your own words? Your own breadcrumbs to the next sentence to be written?
Words feed us. And then…we write.
Happy word hunting!!
Try searching up some new words here: