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As a new writer, you’re bombarded by a surfeit (n. an overabundant supply) of advice to improve your craft. Most of it is helpful and useful such as practicing your writing every day and reading as much as you can get your eyeballs on.
You’ve researched methods for procuring (v. obtaining something, especially with care or effort) ideas for your writing. Ideas can be found in your everyday life, someone else’s life, or your imagination.
But what about words? Of course, the vocabulary we employ provides the foundation of our writing. Our words must engage our readers and form images in their minds. But what specific words should we use?
Creating a Word Hoard is a fun and worthwhile pursuit (n. an activity that one engages in as a vocation or profession) to refine your writing vocabulary. This type of compulsive collecting won’t find you on A&E’s Hoarders though. Accumulating words will enhance your vocabulary and can sharpen your writing and make it more interesting.
What is a Word Hoard?
I first saw the term in Barbara Baig’s book Spellbinding Sentences (this a fantastic guide for any writer wanting to improve their craft). A Word Hoard is an aggregation (a collection of units or parts into a mass or whole) of interesting, new-to-you, or otherwise useful words that a writer can use in her writing.
Where should I keep my Word Hoard?
Your Word Hoard can be kept in anything that is easily accessible; that is, a place where you can have it available while you’re writing or collecting. A Writer’s Notebook is a great place to start. Every writer should keep a notebook where he can organize his word hoard, writing ideas, and other useful information that is used to help him write.
Your Writer’s Notebook can be a physical notebook or a binder if you prefer to hand-write your work. It can be a file or folder on your computer. For word hoarding, I prefer using pen and paper because it helps my brain to retain (v. keep in one’s memory) the information better. Of course, you can use both methods or incorporate others.
I recommend keeping a 3-ring binder for your Writer’s Notebook, so you can add and subtract items as needed. Download your free Word Hoard printable here. Print off as many as you need as you continue to collect words.
Where Can I Collect Words?
One of the best sources for your Hoard is your reading materials. Whether you read books, blogs, or the instructions for your IKEA furniture, when you come across a word that you like the sound of, add it to your collection. If you read a term or phrase that you like the definition of, write it down in your notebook. If you happen upon a new-to-you word that you’ve never seen before (or haveseen before but never really knew what it meant), be sure to ascertain (v. find something out for certain; make sure of) its definition and pronunciation, and jot (v. to write briefly or hurriedly) it down.
Another great source for collecting words is everyday life while you’re out and about. I’m not advocating eavesdropping, but overhearing a conversation while sitting in your favorite coffee shop can be a great source of new words (and perhaps story ideas). If you can’t carry your Writer’s Notebook with you everywhere, at least be sure to keep a small notebook or use your phone to keep track of ideas you hear or see.
An effortless way to acquire words is to sign up for one of the online dictionary’s daily “Word of the Day” emails. Every morning, I receive an email from the online version of Merriam-Webster containing its word of the day. Some of the words I’m already acquainted with while others are unfamiliar. Even if they are already part of my vocabulary, the email provides examples of ways to use the word, synonyms, and other useful information.
Pinterest, if you’re into it, is a great source for unusual and interesting words that may or may not be located in a standard dictionary. Words like “pluviophile” (a lover of rain), “oneiric” (of or relating to dreams), and “sempiternal” (eternal and unchanging; everlasting) reside in my Pinterest Word Hoard.
Keep an eye and ear out everywhere for any words you may want to collect: billboards, the media, and your kid’s Tae Kwon Do class can all be great sources.
How to Use Your Word Hoard
What the heck are you supposed to do with all these new words that you collect?
Try to incorporate your new words into your daily speaking. Make a game out of it, and have fun with it.
When writing, if you’re struggling for just the right word, check out your Word Hoard. It may be there. But don’t force it. Sometimes a thesaurus can be helpful.
Some words are so beautiful and amazing, you can create an entire plot from them. Or try to create a story or essay using as many of your hoarded words as you can. There are countless ways to incorporate your Hoard into your writing.
Let’s Get Started
First, create a section in your Writer’s Notebook for your Word Hoard. Label it whatever you wish. (I’m kind of partial to “Word Herd,” but I’m weird like that).
Sign up for daily emails from Merriam Webster or another online dictionary. Or several of them. Check the word every day. It may be interesting to keep track of how many words you already know compared to the new-to-you ones.
Now, keep your eyes and ears open.
Start collecting and Happy Writing!