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Stuck for a word?

May 19, 2010
writer's block

Writers Block

Staring at your screen or beginning to doodle with your pen because you are stuck for a word or way of expressing something? Although it may be a matter of pride to continue in a linear fashion; this may lead to wasted time and opportunities for your story to progress. Try some of these hints to get to the heart of your message or story.

Use Technology

The blessing of our networking technology is that there is always someone awake when you are writing. So instead of shaking your slumbering partner and asking them “whats the word for….??”… Twitter it, or use Facebook; and wait for the answers to roll in.

Use “ITTS”

“I’m trying to say.”

Step away from your text and write down what you are actually trying to say conversationally.. ie “I’m trying to say that ………… ” and continue with an explanation of the images, feelings or ideas you want to capture without editing or judging the writing style. Redreaft this piece into your original work and read it through. You may cross out half of these words as you redraft, but eventually you will find the heart of the message or image you originally wanted and be able to continue.

Skip it and come back later.

Seriously. Don’t get stuck on a word or idea and allow that to suck away all of your creativity. There are a number of writers who simply type/ write “action goes here” or “witty conversation here” , jump over it and write the rest of the scene. As you write, the word or phrase will resurface and demand it be written in immediately!

Keep it simple

There are some who believe that good writing is filled with words which requires a dictionary as it is being read. Whilst this may suit some stretches of writing or styles, for the most, good writing is clear, simple and specific. For most readers and writers, being caught up with intellectual words distracts from the main message.

Use a physical Thesaurus and Dictionary.

Just as there is a certain beauty in reading a book, there is a mystical effect when handling a thesaurus and dictionary. Words pop out, pages fall open to reveal the perfect term for the story. Buy the best you can afford and keep them close to your writing space.

Use your computer.

Most software programs come with thesaurus and spell checkers. Ensure you know the meanings of words it suggests before inserting.

Use the Internet.

There are some excellent dictionary and thesaurus sites available online. Ensure you bookmark them or have them open in a different tab while you are writing.

Learn a word a day.

Many families have a word a week or word a day posted to their fridge. Keep that habit going by keeping post it notes with your reading books and writing down any cool words you come across. Make a pact to use that word the next day. Keep a record of your new words in a wordbank and draw upon this when you are stuck.

Additionally, there are online resources which will email you a word a day. Try these two:

The next time a word attempts to escape your page, avoid the frustration of chewing your pen to pieces or drifting off to and try these techniques out ; they may just save your stress levels.

Image by Nahuel |Bossanostra| via Flickr

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Annie Evett has had to hide the dictionary and thesaurus. She ends up reading them and shaking her slumbering partner with cool words and meanings at 3 am… Follow Annie here on Twitter and start your escape into her world here

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  1. May 20, 2010 1:46 am

    Excellent tips. My NaNo 2008 campaign was full of “?” which was basically – insert said missing word here. It is amazing when you leave it and read it again several months later you have no problems knowing the word which needs to go there.

    The ITTS method, as Ben suggested, is something I use as a beta reader (unwittingly I have to say). I know talking something through with someone helps heaps… but as you say, in the dead of night it isn’t always possible to physically harrass someone.

    I’ve noticed several of the writers I follow will tweet help with a concept – or a piece of history, or a technical term.

  2. May 23, 2010 3:25 pm

    Wonderful ideas! I often get stuff for a word and turn to the internet for answers. I also “ITTS” it by turning to hubby and explaining to him verbally what I want to happen. It ends up pouring out the way I wanted it to.

  3. May 30, 2010 8:47 am

    One of my favorite parts of writing is when I need a word and something pops up in my head that I don’t know the definition to, but turns out to be the perfect choice. This happen to anyone else? Thanks for the post!

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