Those are some of my favorite words. Yes, I have favorite words – I suspect all writers do. Words you want to say out loud, words you want to write with a fountain pen on thick parchment paper, words you want to link together to form a profoundly meaningful sentence that will touch the hearts of your readers. Writers play with words like artists play with color, photographers play with light, and musicians play with sound. We maniuplate these miraculous little tools of our trade to create atmosphere, character, and emotion, all brought to life by black and white letters on white paper.
In Poemcrazy, Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge writes about her word collection. “The great thing about collecting words is they’re free; you can borrow them, trade them in, or toss them out. Words are lightweight, unbreakable, portable, and they’re everywhere.” One of Wooldridge’s favorite exercises with her writing classes is to create a “wordpool” – everyone in class starts tossing out words which she writes on the chalkboard. Soon, she says, the words and voices begin to take on a rhythm of their own. Words evoke other words, and the students find themselves creating poetic combinations almost effortlessly.
You can even play this game by youself. The other day I was sitting in the mall waiting for my mom to finish shopping. I pulled out my notebook and started writing down any word that came into my head. Out of the list came combinations like apricot illusions, feathered whispering, illicit muses, percolating clouds.
Author Barbara DeMarco Barrett uses her word collection for free writing prompts. She collects meaningful words and phrases from her reading of favorite authors and copies them onto small slips of paper, which she tucks into an antique box. When she’s looking for inspiration, or a way to prod her imagination, she reaches in, picks one out, and free writes for fifteen minutes, using this word as her starting point.
Both Wooldridge and DeMarco-Barrett advise keeping a notebook for words you love the sound of, would love to use, that impress you, that you’ve never heard before.
As much as we love to play with words, Stephen King has a dire warning for us when it comes to our vocabulary. “One of the really bad things you can do,” he advises in his book On Writing, “is to dress up your vocabulary, using long words just because you’re a little ashamed of the short ones. The basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate and cogitate you will probably come up with another word, but it probably won’t be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean.”
So, how about you? What are some of your favorite words? And how do you like to play with them?