Focus on Word Choice

I’ve been trying really hard to figure out a way to up my word choice game. I’ve noticed that many of my peers in my Poetry Workshop are masters (or, close to) of word choice; they can take a line that could be described as boring or mundane, and flip it on it’s head and turn it into something beautiful, all with their choice of words. It’s astounding sometimes, to read their work, and be catapulted into a different universe with just one word or phrase. Some of the phrases or words are abstract, others just set into a line with a different purpose than they usually serve. It’s impressive, and these poets make me want to be better, to choose better.

I’ve recently started a technique in my writing that I think has helped me in this, so I thought I’d share it. I start off with a subject, and then just write from the heart; no thought, no true attention to the wording or phrasing. And then I read it over and over again. In these close readings, I take stock in the words that are weak, or could be better in the context of the poem itself. I then begin to brainstorm different wording, different phrasing, and then come up with something that is totally different than what I thought it was going to be.

Now, this may seem like a no brainer to some writers- fix the shit that doesn’t sound exciting. We do that in workshop all of the time. But this exercise has actually helped me academically as well. I have started looking up new words, new phrases, and trying to accompany them in my everyday conversations to see where they make the most sense, and where they don’t. I’m taking words that I usually would never use, and trying to make them work in my own poetic head space. It helps a lot to know how to use the word, and when it makes no sense conversationally. Take for example, the word minutiae. It’s a beautiful word, but I hardly ever use it in conversation. But now that I’ve started this new exercise, I keep finding places for it in my conversations, and then finding spaces for it in my poems as well. I’m becoming acquainted with words, and then allowing them to flow within my writing as they would coming out of my mouth.

I’m also focusing on crafting more poetic sentences, so my everyday language can be reflected in my writing in a way that doesn’t seem awkward or forced. A lot of my friends and co-workers have been picking up on it, and it’s been a pretty fun ride so far. Give it a shot, if you’d like! I think it makes the whole world seem like poetry to me. More than it already does, I think.


3 Replies to “Focus on Word Choice”

  1. Hey Meg, I think you’re touching on some really great stuff here! Your thoughts are also quite well organized and easy to digest, which definitely helped. Reading through the way you’ve broken down this issue of word choice has helped me with a few of my own understandings, prompting new thoughts about how I make my own word choices. For the most part, I tend to spew words out into space with little thought between each spasm of the fingertips. Obviously I smooth things over in revision as needed and occasionally rewrite, so I suppose this is where deliberation arrives. If something doesn’t read right to me, if I don’t like the way it sounds, I delete it and try to present the idea again. Occasionally I’ll consult a thesaurus. Though a bit less measured, I think this tactic of mine mirrors the technique you described, and in conclusion it probably had something to do with why I agreed so much with your post.

  2. Hi Meg,
    I love this idea! I am definitely going to have to try this, especially considering that is my go-to for papers, ect. Like you, I am intrigued by my fellow classmates who can seamlessly insert an uncommon word into their poem’s language. When I attempt to use more complex vocabulary in my writing I feel as if it becomes to discombobulated or it loses its organic feel. I think writing without intention would help me hone in on “boring” words that I overuse. This would then open up opportunities for more exciting words. Thank you for the great advice!

  3. Wow Meg, this is such an interesting idea! It may seem like you’re doing something mundane and rudimentary, but I think this is allowing you to step back and look at yourself. This also sounds like a teaching method that I would learn in one of my education classes to increase literacy, but I think it’s very insightful of you to come up with it, so Bravo! I think I just might have to experiment with this, even if just to get rid of more basic words like “awesome” and “totally” from my vocabulary 🙂

Leave a Reply to Noah Coates Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.