Using Words New to You for Writing Exercises


It wasn’t all that long ago that I finally developed the habit of not relying on context alone to understand a word new to me, but instead began looking it up and thinking about the dictionary definition. This way, I have added many words to my vocabulary from textbooks and articles: “synecdoche,” “vatic,” “orphic,” “hagiography,” and “heuristic” among them. I have also become fond of reading the etymology of words, sometimes of words for which I’ve never known the meaning, have never heard or read, but other times of words I use everyday, never thinking about their history. Yourdictionary.com has been of help to me.

To create new writing, I consider the word or etymology new to me and take the time to freewrite inspired by the word and its story. Then I extract a sentence or two from my freewrite that I think might get me started on an essay of interest. In this way, I open my thoughts to topics and ideas, notions and experiences I might want to write about. I write for five or 10 or 20 minutes per word. A few moments after I stop writing, I read the freewrite. Then I compose a sentence that seems to articulate something about the perception I think my writing meditation encouraged. Next, I write a sentence or two or three about what that sentence seems to indicate I must cover in an essay if I were to write one that opened with that sentence. These are kernels I am creating for developing full essays.

Find a word you don’t know or are only sort of sure you know or a word you like a lot and wonder where it came from. Look it up. Write from your life experience influenced by the meaning and history of the word. You’ll find some interesting new material, I believe.

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