Most of the time, when I’m banging my head up against a concrete wall, it’s not only because I can’t locate the perfect, but it’s also because my personal vocabulary has become a bit meh. After we leave school, most of us don’t take time every day to look up interesting words we’ve come across, or maybe we don’t play word games like we used to, or we forget to highlight an astounding word another author used in their work – or better yet, we buy one of those books titled The BIG Book of Words You Should Know and forget to even crack open the cover.
It happens. Life gets too busy. And if we are highlighting and/or writing those interesting words down, we often find that list growing, growing, and growing to the point where we feel overwhelmed at definition time. Other times it’s not that life’s too busy, it’s just we forget to write them down and the memory isn’t what it used to be. *raises hand*
This is where the vocabulary journal comes in.
Dear Vocab Journal….
Hopefully we finally learn that we’ve had enough after one too many concussions. When that happens, it’s brainstorm/resolution time.
As if ordained by God or something, a few hours after I decided to not only start keeping a journal, but to update it nightly with definitions and review previous entries, I came across this post on Write It Sideways: 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary. Well, well...if Bill Engvall had been around in that moment the phrase “Here’s your sign” would’ve been all too opportunistic.
A vocabulary journey can range from a small notebook you keep on you at all times to a larger notebook you carry around with worksheets/templates for each word entry (including a space specific for synonyms/antonyms). Whatever floats your boat (cliché!) and ensures the words are gonna stick, be sure to do it. I began by writing the words on index cards. I carry them in my purse, along with a small accordion file. At the end of the day I transfer the words into a larger notebook I keep at the house.
Getting the Words to Stick
Now that we’re been keeping track of words we’ve either read or heard throughout the day, we gotta made sure they stick.
Every night, or every other night, sit down with your journal. Add in definitions, synonyms/antonyms and/or pictures/diagrams for each entry. I stick with definitions and synonyms.
By seeing these words again, writing their definitions, looking at similar or opposing words, they’ll stick in your brain. Regardless of how long it’s been since our brains had to absorb and learn new information, the words will stick in some way, shape or form. And the best part is that this journal isn’t going anywhere either. It’ll always be there when you know you have the perfect word but can’t find it.
The key to this step is to keep ourselves from revisiting these once a week. Then we’re stuck feeling overwhelmed again and the cycle begins anew. Strive for either every night, or every other night. It takes no more than 10 minutes – 20 minutes if you have a long list after a great read.
Now that the vocab level is increasing, the perfect word can – hopefully – be easily found. Because – hopefully – you will own it in your journal. You’ll know it, you can recite it, you’ve learned to love it.
What is a Perfect Word?
I’ve been getting some writing education these last two months with Margie Lawson. She is a genius when it comes to empowering emotions, body language, and all those other psychologically gripping methods of writing and editing that slip under our readers’ conscious radars to dig into their subconscious and make them want more. She’s also the creator of the Deep Editing system I’ve come to know and love.
Margie’s coined a few terms that sum up what the perfect word is better than I ever could: Scene-themed, Emotion-themed, Character-themed. The perfect word your WIP needs will more than likely need to fall into one of those themes. Either it is a word fit for the scene itself (the setting, characters within it, goal, tension), the emotion surrounding the passage (inner emotion/turmoil, not necessarily outwardly expressed), or the character’s unique internalizations or speech (you wouldn’t have a cop call someone a ‘bad guy’ – it’d either be the suspect, the unsub, the defendant, etc.).
So ultimately the perfect word is one that fits the character, their current situation and frame of mind, and most importantly: your voice.
Knowing these three areas of themed words has personally helped me tremendously in selecting the perfect word. Perfect because it adds a psychological punch to a scene and/or passage with high tension and/or emotion. I highly suggest either signing up for a month-long course with Margie, or purchasing one of her lecture packets (warning, they are HUGE, but every lesson shines with her genius). I’m so amazed by how much I’ve learned, and flabbergasted by how my WIP has transformed by 2 online classes and 1 lecture packet that I’m flying out to Colorado – with 5 other authors – for an Immersion Master class. Woo hoo!
What are some of the tasks you do to keep your vocab on its toes? Word puzzles? Reading the dictionary? What about afterwards when you’ve assimilated the newer vocabulary? How do you select the perfect word? Is it a long drawn out struggle where you have think on it for a day or so, or is it as quick as the click of a button?