• The Words We Choose

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 1 comment

    One of my favorite writing exercises is also one of the simplest. It consists of picking ten words and using those words to create a plot synopsis, description, or a bit of dialogue–whatever feels “right.” This exercise is great because it increases vocabulary recall, encourages you to engage with words on multiple levels, and can prompt a new story or poem. It’s focused stream-of-consciousness writing, and that balance can optimize creativity. Sometimes I pick from a dictionary if I’m hankering for new words, and other times I intentionally choose words with the same root language or theme. You can easily tailor this exercise to your own needs.

    This exercise, which I’ll call “Take Ten,” is great for writer’s block. For example, I’m in a major funk right now. I’ve had to deal with some tough stuff the past couple months, and it’s slowed work on a short story I’m converting into a novel. I’m betting Take Ten will ease me out of my rut. So, I’ll start by setting my focus. One of the motifs I explore in my short story is the parallel between setting and psychological landscapes. My story occurs in a post-apocalyptic society (hundreds of years after the downfall of a civilization) that has some semblance to the Middle Ages. The settlement where my story begins is partially surrounded by fearsome-looking trees, where the locals occasionally glimpse shadowy figures they call “Coal Men.” I want to get in better touch with the psychological effects the primordial haunted forest has on my characters. These are the words that grab me when I imagine the emotional impact of the setting:

    Prey, stealth, stalk, waiting, smother, hunger, growing, unfolding, seethe, encroaching

    Now I have an even clearer sense of the relationship between the characters and the setting. The forest is clearly an entity, a predatory one, and the characters sense this on a subconscious level. I can incorporate these words into my writing at this point, or I can reflect further on how to wrap my characters’ thoughts around the themes my words present.

    Now my brain feels a little lighter, and I’m more eager to play with the Jungian aspects of my manuscript. It’s kind of magical.

    For those of you suffering through a creative blockage, I hope Take Ten helps.

    Are there any writing exercises you return to again and again? Let us know below.


    In addition to writing for WriteByNight’s blog, Jenna Cooper writes for BE Mag and a blog called FemThreads. Aside from writing, Jenna served as an AmeriCorps Member from 2008-2010 and will start her M.S. in Information Studies in Fall 2012. She graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in English from the University of Texas.

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    Justine Tal Goldberg

    What a great exercise, Jenna. My favorite thing about it–and fiction in general–is that the possibilities are endless. Thanks for sharing. When I get blocked, I turn to character sketches and stream of consciousness writing about writing. I might start with a sentence like this one at the top of the page: “I am having trouble moving forward on this project because…” Then I go wherever my mind takes me. I’ve had some pretty helpful revelations this way, e.g. “… because I don’t care about this story at all.” It’s so important to listen to yourself and we silly writers… Read more »

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