Words are the writer’s medium, the raw material, the building blocks with which we construct our stories. A follow-on question to, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ might well be, ‘Where do you find the words?’ How do we translate that vision in our head, that image in our mind’s eye, that scene, the picture of a character into marks on the page or screen?
For myself it’s an organic process, the words come into my head, sometimes visit my mouth (I shape them as I’m writing, tasting them which must look bizarre and is one reason for not writing in front of an audience) and then they travel down my arm to my hand and through the pen to the page.
As I’ve said before I don’t like to analyse the process of writing too much (superstitious) but as I write I am often automatically seeking out better words to capture what I mean. My first draft has plenty of crossings out. A grey sky will become a blank or bleak sky. ‘How are you?’ will be replaced by, ‘You okay?’ or, ‘How you doing?’ There are dozens of choices as I write. And a sense of the rhythm of the words, the beat beneath them, figures in there somewhere.
Then there is the Thesaurus. I love the Thesaurus. I’m prone to repetition and finding alternative words helps keep that in check and introduces variety into my work.
Sometimes I collect words as I read other people’s books. If they strike me as particularly eloquent or visceral then I jot them down and when I am tidying up my prose I consider whether there is a good place for any of them. Often they don’t fit or they don’t suit my style so they languish on the list for the future.
You may have read lots of rules about writing: cut out your adverbs, avoid the passive voice, don’t split infinitives. None of these rules help me, I ignore them all. I prefer to rely on my instincts. And I constantly break a rule that I was taught at school – never start a sentence with ‘and’. (See what I did there?) I also have loads and loads of sentences that are not proper sentences even though they start with a capital letter and end with a full stop. I leave out the subject or the verb or both. Suffice to say the grammar and style function on my word processor is permanently disabled.
It works for me.