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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 19, 2010 12:33 am

    Great tips! I get stuck with words a lot and I hate it – the feeling that it’s sitting on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t spit it out!

    When I’m writing I tend to put a bunch of words that are similar/the same as/ close to/akin to/analogous into the sentence and hope that when I get back to it I’ll get that word nailed.

  2. May 19, 2010 1:35 am

    I really liked the “I’m trying to say” suggestion. I’m really going to try that out.

    I kind of did it with Jodi when she was beta-ing ‘My Boss Sucks’ but me having to explain to her what I was intending to do with the story, so then she could help me tease out how to explain it and what was left out.

  3. May 19, 2010 1:37 am


    This post was so…. oh damnit… what’s the word I’m looking for here…?

    Hang on, let me review your advice. *reviews advice*

    Ah. This post was so chock-full of practical information and pointers! 😉 thanks!

  4. May 19, 2010 3:59 am

    Of these I prefer the ITTS. I think it’s the one that challenges me the most. Maybe it’s the teacher in me because I often try to get my language students to do the same.

  5. May 19, 2010 5:43 am

    Some great tips and resources there.

  6. May 19, 2010 7:17 am

    Great tips. I’m a writer who gets stuck on trying to work on specific passages and words at the expense of my creative flow. I love the tip about just jotting down a reminder phrase to come back to later. That way, I can continue writing while my muse is still playing.

  7. May 19, 2010 7:25 am

    I think my entire writing style is the ITTS method!

    Seriously, some great tips here. What often happens to me is I get stuck on a word and I know what letter I think it starts with but I can’t remember the word. I know tons of synonyms, but they’re not the word I want. Even though any of the synonyms would be sufficient or even fine, the fact that it doesn’t start with the letter I think it should start with makes it “all wrong,” as if it is more about the look of the words on the page than it is about the idea.

    Thanks again for the great suggestions.

  8. adampb permalink
    May 19, 2010 8:16 am

    Great, simple advice you can stick under your laptop and refer to it continually. In particular, I like the “keep it simple” idea. Mainly because I need to elevate my lexicon, but really, say it clearly. Sometimes there is more depth of meaning attained with simplest of words to express the most complex of emotions. That’s why someone invented similes and metaphors, I’m sure.
    Favourite word of recent months that I came across, courtesy of Terry Pratchett: widdershins. Look it up.

  9. May 19, 2010 9:09 am

    Classic Adam! I LOVE the word.. now.. hummm how can I use it as many times tomorrow as I can?

    thanks to the rest of the commenters – am glad that some of my reflections, ideas and thoughts may help you along as well..

  10. May 20, 2010 1:15 am

    well, truly speaking, all the said tricks were helpful for me…….and I will have to use them at some point or the other…….for am too weak at vocab……. thanks annie

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