How many words does a writer have to choose from when the pen touches the paper or fingertips strike the keyboard? I cannot give you an exact number or even a rough estimate of how many words are out there waiting, but I can give you a few ideas on how to find new words and explore new ways to do amazing things with the ones you’ve got.
Some of these ideas I’ve picked up in writing books and others are simply things that I have done on my own in order to assist my writing. The writing craft is an ongoing process of practice and skill building, and there is no such thing as a wasted exercise when it comes to wordplay. So here are a few to either get you started or to help expand your horizons.
1. Word building! I have an entire binder filled with loose leaf paper that I use to build my own word bank. I started with verbs. Each page consists of various verbs that can be used when writing about housework: dusting, vacuuming, washing, etc. Another page might have a list of verbs that describe ways of moving: walking, running, sprinting, wandering, etc. Over time, I have built various sections, adding to them when I come across a new word that interests me. So, when I’m writing and get stuck, I can browse through the proper section in my word bank to get some ideas. This system isn’t limited to verbs either. I have a second with lists for every possible shade or reference to each color. Speaking of colors…
2. Color swatches. Personally, I love colors, and in the pocket at the front of my writing binder, I have a collection of paint color swatches that I have gathered a few at a time. Not only can the colors themselves be inspirational but the names of the colors can also nudge your mind into embracing some creative takes on color and descriptions.
3. Writing potpourri. Jots down little writing ideas on scraps of paper and keep them in a jar. When you’re having trouble finding inspiration, all you have to do is pull an idea from the jar and run with it. These ideas can be anything from themes (man loses his hat in the park and ends up a long way from home) or intriguing phrases that flutter into your mind at random moments (on butterfly wings). There are a lot of different ways to play with this idea. You could do a daily challenge where you draw one idea and spend ten to fifteen minutes writing whatever that little scrap of paper inspires you to write (whether it has anything to do with the idea itself or not). You could also pull two or three ideas at once and see if you can find some way to include them all in one piece of poetry or prose.
4. Get involved with National Novel Writing Month. 50,000 words in 30 days! This event takes place every November and provides an amazing amount of writing inspiration. It’s a crazy time of writing abandon that really encourages you to knock out your inner critic and get that rough draft onto paper. There is no time to worry about anything when you only have thirty days to write that novel! (I have yet to complete this myself. Something always goes awry. I did manage 20,000 words this last year.) Details can be found at http://www.nanowrimo.org . They also sponsor a screenwriting event in April, I believe, so if that is something you enjoy or wanted to try, this could be just the ticket to getting started!
5. An exercise that you can do with a writing friend is: each of you makes a list of words that you really enjoy. I have an affection for words like surreal and opalescent. Exchange lists and then try to write a short story using your friend’s list of words. This can not only introduce you to new words, but it gives you a chance to work with words that you might not consider using.
You can challenge each other to use all of the words on the list or see who can use the most. You could also increase the challenge by specifying a genre for the story. The possibilities are endless, and it’s a lot of fun.Hopefully, these ideas will help inspire you, and maybe you’ll add a few twists to them and come up with some entirely new exercises. No matter what, they can only add to your vocabulary and writing experience.