Friday Writing Experiment No. 60: Word Power


This is an exercise to help with revising, but it could also be used in other contexts. It builds on Friday Writing Experiment No. 9: A Word.

* Take some key word from a piece you are working on and do some rooting around in the history of that word, e.g., at

E.g., let’s say you are writing a story about a witch – let’s take a look at magic. One bit of this Etymonline definition that I take away is the following:

to be able, to have power (see machine)

So: really think about the relevance of your finding to your piece of writing. In this case, how does your writing embody, feel, think, bring to life (in this case) this idea of having power or ability? And how are various aspects of craft working with this idea, and how might they be developed within the work?

* Set a timer for five minutes, and write these thoughts out in your notebook by hand, e.g., for the words magic/ability/power: Magic is important to me/my book as … The idea of ability can be embodied in my book through … My characters show their powers by … I have found magic in my world/family in …

You might event want to copy out the definition first: see which words excite you as you write them down. You can also do this with a passage of your own writing. Which words sizzle as you write them?

* Continue to reflect on this definition further, and see what else you might need to bring out in your drafting and revising.

* Most of all: how are you giving the reader something of this definition in the writing? Writing is always an act of giving. Writing is a gift to someone else.

Further note: Don’t worry too much about the precise origins of a word. Sometimes they will have direct correspondences with the place or time you are writing about, and that sort of synchronicity has a magic of its own. The goddess is looking down on you! But, too, sometimes word histories can come from entirely different places, and unless you are writing about a particular context using particular constraints that doesn’t really matter. What matters is making the writing you are doing in the here and now relevant and powerful.

(If you are writing fiction, especially, your duty is to use your imagination rather than labour some other form of truth that might never be proven anyway.)

Friday Writing Experiment No. 59: Words Words Words


If possible, the first time you do this, rather than reading ahead, read each stage and follow its instructions before scrolling down to the next stage. (I hesitate to use the word instruction, because writers can be a bolshie lot who take instruction poorly, but in this case just do as you’re told as constraints are good for you.)

Give yourself about twenty minutes.


1. Have a timer, notebook and pen at the ready, and a favourite book at hand (probably a print book but could work with ebook).


2. Close your eyes. Open the book at a random page. Put your finger on the page. Open your eyes. See what word your finger has landed on.


3. Take the first letter of that word. Set the timer for three minutes and write/brainstorm a list of as many words that you can think of that start with that letter of the alphabet.


4. At the three-minute bell, stop.


5. Look over your list quickly and circle your two favourite words. Trust your instinct here.


6. Now close your eyes and use your pen to stab your piece of writing: whichever word you land on is your third word.


7. Set your timer for fifteen minutes, then take these three words to generate a flash fiction or scene or the start of a short story or first chapter.


Adapt this as necessary, but again, stick with the exercise and its constraints for a while if you can.

You might also want to combine this with some of the foragings in word history of Friday Writing Experiments No. 9: A Word and No. 60: Word Power.

(And yes, I post this on a Wednesday, but it was a Friday when we first did it at the Festival of Writing 2016. And someone did generate a really good one and email it to me by first thing Monday morning.)

Friday Writing Experiment No. 9: A Word

Take a word that seems current to you: fox, or chase, or November, or ash, or drink, or because, or whatever, or no, or nail, or index. Choose something new, emerging, fresh. Probably not something you’ve dealt with before.

Then, do some research on that word. Look it up in all six dictionaries you own (you do own six dictionaries, I assume?), look it up in a thesaurus, look it up in dictionaries of foreign languages, in an etymological dictionary, in the glossary of specialist reference works, in an encyclopedia, on Wikipedia. Google it. Take a page of notes (a page, no more – it’s okay, you can write really small if you have to).

That could go on forever, so ration yourself. It can be good to place a time limit on your brainstorming, e.g., fifteen minutes. (You can do more, but a short, sharp hit of looking can be effective for clarifying the thought process and enlivening your instincts.)

Then: without referring to those references again, and only using your page of notes, write a page about that word, or embodying that word, but without using that word. Prose, poetry, what you will. Just don’t use your chosen word, or variations thereof, at all.

Continue at your leisure.

Friday Writing Experiment No. 59: Words Words Words uses generated words in a particular way where this delving into word history might become relevant. And you can also apply this process specifically to your revising: Friday Writing Experiment No. 60: Word Power.

PS Yes, we took a week off last week. Because we can. It’s not the Every Friday Writing Experiment.