Friday, April 13, 2012

Writing Using Word Association Lists

Have you ever had a great idea you wanted to put on paper but just couldn't get started? I'm raising both my hands. As a writer you want the best lead-in you can get. Unfortunately coming up with it isn't always easy. One of the tools I've found that helps me is a word association list.


I'm currently working with just one list. I sat down one night and created a list of words that could be associated with each season. So for spring I have words like warmth, breeze, renewal, rain and training. A few weeks ago when I was trying to write a devotion based on a verse about training your children, the spring portion of the list came in handy. As I scanned the list, I saw the entry "training (spring)". I immediately thought about baseball. That launched me on a parallel of how spring training relates to parenting. The devotion basically formed itself from that one word association.


Another devotion about transformation was written from the fall list. The word of choice was pumpkins. I'll share the beginning here so that you can see how thinking about pumpkins gave me the beginning I needed.

                     " Pumpkins know the power of transformation. They can remain a simple pumpkin or become part of a table centerpiece. Some become pie, soup or seeds. Many become jack-o'-lanterns. Whatever their final destination, they all go through a transformation that's not of their choosing. I guess we can say that we are like pumpkins. Just as pumpkins can be transformed, we too have a similar opportunity. The big difference is we get to choose!"

Before looking at my word association list, I struggled for an hour trying to come up with a good first paragraph. Nothing seemed to work. But pumpkins, yes that was just the right hook for this piece. 


I'm currently putting together a new word association list based on geographic locations like the mountains or the beach. It's a good idea to keep things fresh and a new list will help me do just that. What about you? What word association lists could you come up with? What other techniques do you use to help jump-start your beginnings?


Marietta Taylor is an author and speaker. She is the author ofSurviving Unemployment:Devotions to Go. Marietta is a monthly blogger at the Go ask Mom Blog at www.wral.com. Her tagline is Mom of Teens. She was also a contributing author to Penned From The Heart Vol XV. Marietta has a bachelor's degree in Biology from the University of Illinois-Chicago. Visit Marietta at www.mariettataylor.net or www.marismorningroom.blogspot.com or email her at maritaylor@mariettataylor.net.


20 comments:

elysabeth said...

Mari,

What a great idea. I sort of had that happen for a novel I'm currently working on but haven't taken it further. I used some pictures that had small writing prompts and each of the pictures ties into the story. I know I need to do a lot of research before I can really write the story but I'm thinking a word association list really will help me since the story is set in both the United States and overseas (which Asian country I haven't a clue yet) and it is time-dated - set in or about 1970 and 1980 (it's a 10-year story but only those two years are really important to the story). I'm going to give it a try. Thanks for giving me a new direction to take this story. E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of Finally Home, a YA paranormal mystery
"The Proposal" (an April Fools Day story), a humorous romance ebook
"The Tulip Kiss", a paranormal romance ebook
"Bride-and-Seek", a paranormal romance ebook
http://elysabethsstories.blogspot.com
http://eeldering.weebly.com

Margaret Fieland said...

Mari, I never thought to keep word association lists, but I've used them to jump start poems, especially from prompts, and I used word association lists to generate the titles of the two books I'm working on now.

Unknown said...

Elysabeth, That's awesome! Glad this was helpful. I wrote the first list for a specific project but it's been useful well beyond that so I thought I'd share the idea.

Unknown said...

Maggie, I've used prompts too but I prefer the word association lists. Anything that helps get the words on paper is a friend to me :)

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Love the idea of a word association list. I will try it.

Shirley Corder said...

Great idea Mari. I oncw brainstormed a few key words with a friend, and we came up with dozens of ways of saying "walk" for example. I often go back to that list for inspiration on a new way to way it.

NancyCL said...

This is great! Thanks so much!

Karen Cioffi said...

Mari, this is such a useful idea. I've done this with descriptive words, action verbs, and tags. I'll have to add word association to my lists. All these little tricks help us writers write better and faster!

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

Magdalena Ball said...

Great idea for poetry in particular, especially when you're writing to a theme.

elysabeth said...

Congrats, Mary Jo, Random.org picked your number and you are the winner of the earth-y bookworm. Please email me at eeldering@gmail.com with your mailing address so I can send this out to you. E :)

Unknown said...

Love this idea Mari. In fact, I teach a SAT prep class and use word associations to help them brainstorm when writing essays. It always gets them started, which often is the most difficult part of writing.

Donna McDine said...

Terrific approach. I used this method with the A to Z Challenge and found it most effective. Now to use it for more specific topics.

Unknown said...

Mary Jo, I think you'll find the list quite useful.

Unknown said...

I haven't done the synonym list but I think I'll add that to my writers toolkit.

Unknown said...

Karen, I am always looking for ways to make writing better, faster and easier for me. And I like to share what I learn.

Unknown said...

Nancy, Thanks for stopping by. Hope you can use this idea :)

Unknown said...

Magdalena, yes it works well for poetry too. I dabble in it from time to time.

Unknown said...

Kathy: I'll have to pass this along to my daughter. She's taking the SAT this summer.

Unknown said...

Donna, Great minds think alike (wink).

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Super idea as always, Mari. I put it in my workbook and shall try lol
Annie

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