Earlier this year, I took a writing class focused on narrative travel writing, taught by my friend Lavinia Spalding. One of the techniques she emphasized from our first session is called Word Harvesting, and it’s a valuable tool far beyond travel writing.
How to Harvest Words
Since writers deal in words, hopefully descriptive and evocative, regular reading is one way to ensure you always have a fresh supply in mind when sitting down to write. (No surprises here.)
But Lavinia takes this a step further. She recommends reading one poem every day and keeping a running list of words that jump out at you. Nouns and verbs are favored over ubiquitous and often superfluous adjectives.
Some of My List — Grip / Sanctified / Romp / Blossom / Playthings / Hiss /Abide / Rapture / Uttermost / Den / Nerves / Marred / Flare / Trumpet / Soothing /Lustrous / Radiant / Stymied / Satellite / Measure / Bushel / Rare / Fetched / Dribble / Fluid / Peak / Valley / Peekaboo / Pop / Madcap / Sheltering / Pasted / Tumult / Rustle / Rutted / Gloat / Temper / Punishment / Bawdy / Unruffled / Vicissitudes / Luckless
The next time you sit down to write, pull out your list and try to work those words into your essay, blog post, or journal entry. I found it easier than expected and lots of fun.
What If You Aren’t A Writer?
The exercise is still valuable. Collecting rare words that pique your interest helps you engage with whatever you’re reading, and adding a little poetry to your day can even be soothing at times. It helps us to better describe the peaks and valleys in the tumult of our daily lives. Often we use the same unhelpful vocabulary stymied by the lack of new language and mental images — words that are not up to the task.
So instead of remaining on the same rutted path, treat words like playthings. Use them whenever you feel the urge, unruffled by the newness of their sound on your lips. Pop, dribble, and trumpet their entry into your lexicon, not gloating over your new knowledge, but relishing the specificity with which it allows you to communicate.
P.S. – There are tons of options to add more poetry to your life, including daily poetry email lists. This is the poetry app I use. It’s surprisingly satisfying to “spin” the wheel and see what category and corresponding poems show up. Today’s category = Humor & Love.