Why all writers need a secret stash

Early this year I was interviewed by a rather pompous character called, Bookworm. It was for a Channel 9 kids TV show. I’ll let you know when it screens…

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At one point during the interview, Bookworm said, ‘I hear you collect words.’

I said, ‘Who told you that?!’

Bookworm was taken aback (and that’s saying something). Then he said, ‘I don’t know. It’s here on my list’.

It was a funny moment. Maybe you had to be there.

But you see, I don’t recall ever telling anyone that I collect words (except perhaps my creative writing students).

I always thought collecting words was nerdy. And I’m not a nerd. I’m cool, right?

Yeah. You knew that.

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At the risk of ruining my image, I’ve decided to elaborate.

If you’re an aspiring writer, always be on the lookout for great words. Sounds obvious? Not necessarily.

Collecting words is the best kind of research and it’s effortless. After a while it becomes second nature.

Lately, I’ve been reading a  tattered old paperback. It’s a children’s novel from the 1980s. A friend lent it to me. It’s an obscure book in terms of its popularity. But oh my, the language. It’s as rich as chocolate pudding.

I actually finished the book weeks ago.  I must give it back. I know I must. But I can’t. Not yet. It’s packed with awesome words and quirky phrases and I haven’t jotted them all down yet.

I’m not returning that book for love nor money. Not until I’ve had my way with it.

For writers, collecting words is as valid as chasing up facts about dragons or boats or deciduous trees.

Read with a pencil in your hand. Purloin (ahem) from your favourite authors. Keep your own word collection notebooks. I have one in the car, one on my bedside table, one in my handbag.

Whenever I see a word that resonates with me or with the piece I’m working on, I scribble it down. Even if I don’t have my notebook with me, I scribble words on whatever I can lay my hands on: petrol receipts, envelopes, Telstra bills (they have to be good for something).

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I was reading a lot of P G Wodehouse when I wrote Norman Does Nothing. Wodehouse influenced the tone and setting and because his language was so playful and wry, my word collection doubled.

Word collections make rewriting even more fun. Now’s the time to flick back through your collection and ask yourself, What’s in here that will lift my piece?

Here’s the thing: Your word collection will reflect your personal style and your predilections. It will be loads more quirky (and accessible and original) than a thesaurus or a big, fat, dusty, daggy dictionary. Flicking through your own collection  will be loads more rewarding—and weirdly empowering.

Get to it! Make a Word Collection book. You’ll grow to love it, I promise.

I bet Shakespeare had one. I mean, have you seen that guy’s stuff?

Jen xo


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