Creating a Word Notebook – The Pre-Work

20 Nov

Because everyone’s Word Notebook would be different, they aren’t something that can magically be reproduced for everyone, but everyone can reproduce one.


Today, we’re going to talk about pre-work.


The purpose of the Word Notebook is to be your own personal thesaurus, dictionary, writing and editing tool. Just creating the book will key you into your own mistakes, bad habits and overlooked editing issues.


Pre-Work Step 1

Download a writing analysis software – I highly recommend

Upload several of your manuscripts.

Using the overused word function run through the list. Looking at the first manuscript, keep a running list of the overused words. Be prepared to make marks next to the words of if their over used in all your documents. Keep in mind that not all overused words will be at the very top of the list and not all words at the top of the list are overused.

For example, you need to throw away the articles at that top of the list (the, a, an) Obviously, you’re going to use those a lot. There are other words that may be fairly high that you don’t want to throw away. Names for example (although, it is common to overuse names where you don’t need them.) Or if you have a family based story where the theme of ‘family’ was discussed in dialogue and narrative, perhaps the word “family” might appear more often than in other stories. 

OR, you could have a word that only appears 2 or 3 times, but it’s overused. How many times in one book do you really think you can get away with effervescence?


So, you’ve made your lists. Sort them by word type: noun, verb, adjective, adverb. First off, adverbs and adjectives are a big clue to strengthen your nouns and verbs. Nouns can typically be strengthened by using proper or more specific nouns. Does he drive an old truck OR a rust-red ’51 Chevy Pickup?  The two phrases draw very different pictures. The first one draws whatever picture the reader has in their own history. The second one draws YOUR picture.

Verbs, are typically strengthened by searching for your overused verbs or verbs partnered with adverbs.

Did he run fast? Or, did he sprint, race, jog, hurtle, plow, lunge, etc?

What constitutes a weak verb? You’re going to have to decide that most of the time for yourself, but watch for those adverbs. They’re you’re first clue.


The purpose of the word book is to find these overused words learn what you use, find them, and repair them,
To give yourself your own resource when your feeling wordless
To stop you from having to tote a thesaurus for words you find yourself looking up all the time
To save words and phrases you love and want to remember to play with


Single word issues aren’t the only thing we’re going to solve – how about those pesky phrases and actions.


I’ll be honest, if my characters turn any more in the first draft, their going to get dizzy and toss their biscuits. Also, they shrug, nod and smile way too much. Most of the overused actions will be found through your overused verb list as well. But watch for those low numbered ones also.


Pre-Work Step 2:

Relearning movement. This is so important. Most people struggle with mundane movement in their writing. Give us a battle scene or a ball and we can choreograph to our hearts content, but put people in a room having a discussion, and uh-oh.

I try to give each of my characters their own standard movements. If only one character nods it isn’t going to become as overused as if we let everyone nod.  But how do we find new, interesting, telling but easy to read over motions. WATCHING.

I’m giving you permission (Ok, actually, not permission, homework) to go peep on people. Find a  place where a lot of different types and ages of people will be and you can sit and watch. Your coffee shop may not be the best place if it only caters to one type of clientele. The mall is good. Public transportation is good. The line in the grocery story. The laundromat. At the movies. Watching the person next to you at the light. Out for your walk. Wherever there are people.


My best suggestion: Grab a friend who doesn’t write. Offer to buy her coffee and chocolate. Give her a notebook. Tell her only that you’re collecting body motions for your writing and could she record what she sees. Ask her to jot a note if the motion made a clear impression of an attitude or emotion. WHY A NON-WRITING FRIEND? They aren’t trying to figure out how best to say it, editing themselves. They’re just catching things fast and recording them. One of mine thought it was easier to draw quick pictures. She almost made little comics. She caught things I never would have seen because I was “expressing myself.”


So, that’s your homework: Make your list (not in your Word Notebook, we’ll do that later) and catch motions on paper.

Just let the Word Notebook sit there looking blank and helpful. We’ll start filling it up soon.

4 Responses to “Creating a Word Notebook – The Pre-Work”

  1. Celise November 20, 2008 at 4:00 pm #

    So, are you currently using this software? This site seems kinda shady to me.

  2. Mel November 20, 2008 at 6:17 pm #

    FYI, really like this idea. I do something similar, but just on random pieces of paper that I then lost or thrown out.

  3. briaq November 20, 2008 at 8:24 pm #

    Hi ladies –

    Mel, yah, lost is bad. . . thus the notebook and now the backup for this round 🙂

    Celise – It’s actually not. It’s just a homegrown product (not his only one). A bunch of us have it and have had success with it. He actually has stopped by here a few times and is pleasant ta’boot 🙂

  4. Celise November 21, 2008 at 12:57 am #

    Fabulous. That’s all I needed to know.

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