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    Suggestions on writing exercises?
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    I have the most difficulty with using the exact word I want. I wish I could write "For lack of a better word" everytime this happens. Reading is an obvious exercise and I read a lot but mostly novels and of course, screenplays. Should I focus on another form of writing? Anybody try listening to audio books or something like that?

    I just feel like I have much more difficulty verbally expressing myself than most writers. I spend so much time going through words in my head before it goes on paper, it's getting really time consuming and annoying - I lose great thoughts and ideas I spontaneously come up with as I'm writing. My friend sent me a free "fill in the blank" type online exercise a few years ago but the site no longer exists. Any iphone apps? For children? I'm desperate.


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    I suggest you read On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. It's probably the best book you can get on the subject. The second best is The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E. B. White. I've studied writing for twenty years. Most books are bunk. These are by far the best.

    It's not quite what you're asking for. You're asking for something that will stir up a rich vocabulary. This book focuses on thinking clearly. It dispenses with a whole lot of nonsense that clouds your thinking and therefore your writing.


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    Wish I were banned. Drew Ott's Avatar
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    Try the Merriam Webster vocabulary builder. It costs about $4. I bought one recently and fell away from doing the exercises but this is a good reminder to pick it back up.

    How often do you write? I find that my best writing comes when I write every day, and without distractions. Also, if your trouble with word choice is slowing down your rough drafts, don't fear using smaller words.

    Finally, are you sure it's an issue of vocabulary? The best writers are using their natural vocabularies, not looking for big words. You should be able to describe anything with 8th Grade level English. This is especially true in screenwriting, because your fancy vocabulary can't exist in the movie unless it's in the dialogue.
    "You'd better cure all those personal problems that might be holding back something you want to say." -John Cassavetes


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    Senior Member Batutta's Avatar
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    Good suggestions above. I also got a lot out of "The First Five Pages" by Noah Lukeman. And from Isaac Asimov I read probably the best advice on writing -- TO BE CLEAR. Always ask yourself, is what I'm writing being communicated clearly to the reader. And then just keep writing. Write, write and write some more. It gets easier. The nuts and bolts of building story and character never gets easier, but finding the right words to communicate your ideas with definitely gets easier with practice.
    "Money doesn't make films...You just do it and take the initiative." - Werner Herzog


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    If you're just having issues with finding words try reading the dictionary cover to cover. I'm not joking. I did it three times as a kid. If you're not that in love with language (you don't have to be to tell a visual story but it helps) then a thesaurus is a fantastic tool. I love to pick a word at random in the thesaurus, pick one of the synonyms (or antonyms for a variation of the game) and move through it like idly clicking through pages on the internet leading to 'how did i get here' moments. If you have any interest in language whatsoever it is fun and you will discover some really cool words. You start to get a feel for connotations if you do it often enough, although it is good to pair it with a dictionary for any word you actually want to use. It is very rare that two words actually mean the exact same thing, thesaurus generates words with similar meanings and they aren't always interchangeable in context. Understanding when to use one or the other is very important for a writer. They are particularly good for finding a word on the tip of your tongue, if you can get ballpark you'll often find it in the thesaurus. Rhyming dictionaries are pretty cool too. Get hard copies. Feel it in your hands. Don't have your primary tools on the computer screen. Turn off spell check (at least until you are editing).

    In regards to losing ideas while writing them down, develop a shorthand for accessing your own thought patterns. Try writing your next idea down using only keywords, images and fragments that you think might re-inspire the idea. Write down what triggered the idea rather than the idea itself. If you make a practice of it and it's a good idea, it will come back. It might come back better. Learn how to trick and manipulate your own brain. With some practice you should get to the point you can identify exactly what triggered your flash of inspiration, capture it in a couple of words or a short phrase (or even a sketch) that when you read them it all comes back. Focus on visuals, most memory tricks involve visualisation and running little movies in your head to build up associative powers.

    For example, you might be sitting at a cafe and notice a dog relieving itself on a fire hydrant. Which might trigger a memory about a dog of the same breed from your past which reminds you about the old friend you haven't thought about in years that owned it. You might recall some adventure you had and combine that with something that happened to you the other day and have your eureka moment. You scrabble for a pen by the time you start writing it is already fading. Write 'dog pees on hydrant' down and put it in your pocket. Get home, put the original napkin (this doesn't work as well if you transcribe your thoughts) into your journal and then later, whether it be hours, days or months when you're feeling creative look at all your notes. Something will trigger for one or more of them. Some will never come back, others will like a bolt of lightning. But you can't force it, ideas will present when they are ready.

    Also, hand write all your ideas. Your personal hand writing is a far more powerful visual aid to memory than an impersonal computer screen. You might try writing in longhand with pen and paper too. Editing as you write on a computer screen and your thought process is lost. Cross out and make changes on paper and when you come back later the thought process behind your edit has left evidence on the paper and if you know yourself and your process it is easy to remember why you made the change.


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    I've been writing screenplays for a long time. I just dont think its ez for anyone. I think the concept of a s*%tty first draft has been helpful to me. You just get it out - find out what the story is - then you can go back and polish - use a thesaurus to find the right words. There's an ok thesaurus in final draft. For me what usually happens is the main idea for a film comes quick - and that's always exciting - but then comes the re-writing - and that can be tough - is tough. But not as tough as not doing it to begin with it. And write everyday - if only for 5 minutes. Build those muscles. Now I'm depressed if I don't write for at least 4-5 hours a day. Good luck


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    To the OP, I can certainly relate to your experience. There are many fine suggestions above. As combatentropy mentioned, On Writing Well and The Elements of Style are essential manuals. When I asked John Guare in a conversation on how to improve my writing many years ago, he said that The Elements of Style was the only book I would ever need. If perhaps you don't know who Mr Guare is, I'd encourage you to read any of his many fine works for theater and film. An aside: as great of a writer as he is, he is even more generous mentoring many of us in the NYC dramatic writing community. A remarkably kind, generous, and humble man.

    OK. Aside aside.

    I can offer two suggestions. The first, and by far the most important, is to read. By read, I mean, READ. Read at least 3 times more than the amount of time you spend writing. I'm totally just making that '3 times' number up. What I mean to convey is... READ a LOT.

    Why?

    Reading widely - screenplays, short stories, novels, poetry - is the the single most effective 'vocabulary builder' I can imagine. You get to understand a new word in context and learn how a skilled writer uses it stylistically. Then you get to decide if you like that writer's style or not. Plus, reading is awesome.

    The converse is to memorize a bunch of vocabulary words and then try to jam them into your sentences. This can lead to writing that can only be described as wooden. Reading such writing is a laborious process to endure to put it mildly.

    The second idea I'd offer is to write some amount, say 2-5 pages, with a steady pace without stopping. Do this every day, either typing or writing longhand. Just make one commitment to yourself, "Whatever happens, I will not stop moving my hand until I get to the end of this page." You can also write by using a timer. A methodology for how to learn this practice can be found in the seminal 'How To Write' text called Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. Link: http://w3.salemstate.edu/~pglasser/1...g-a-Writer.pdf

    This foundational exercise allows a writer to sprinkle sleep dust on that seemingly indefatigable demon called 'Self-Censoring Judgement'.

    Combining these two practices, reading a lot and learning to write beyond self-criticism, cultivates the circumstances in which you will spontaneously use a 'new' vocabulary word solely for the reason that it is the most precise way to express the moment or phenomena or emotion or whatever that you are trying to communicate.

    To be honest, it sounds like the primary issue you're struggling with is not lack of vocabulary, but withering beneath an onslaught of self-criticism. I face some version of this onslaught every day. Why? Because I write every day. It seems to be a natural companion to not only the writing process, but any creative endeavor. I'd like to say that it goes away. It doesn't. It is, however, possible to get to know it, be patient with it, and learn to apply such judgement and criticism when it is appropriate in the creative process to apply judgement and criticism. That comes later. After whatever you're working on is strong enough to stand on its own two feet and take a little bit of a tempering.

    Wishing you well with your journey.


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    I would break the writing process into distinct categories -

    one liner/quip/wisecrack writing (doesn't have to be comedy, can be as 'easy" as "this is not personal ... it's strictly business");

    scene writing, where you have the beginning and the end ... or the entrance and the exit, if you will ... a mini-story of its own ...

    and the overall story line structure/arc, where you work on the characters and their beginnings and endings ... or, as Anton Chekhov said, "if you mention a gun in the first act, make sure it goes off before the third" ...

    A side story - I was reading (though one can transcribe the dialog by himself off the available footage) a Marx brothers skit ... the choice of words was far below that of a TOEFL test ... but it was beyond merely good ... it was brilliant because it was a never-before-seen type of creative work ... and it was a 'sure fire hit" because every line of the skit was previously honed before a live audience ... and a live audience doesn't care what words you are using ... if something is funny, it will react by laughing ... which is the whole point of a comedy script, even if it's made in reverse ...


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    Honestly? Sometimes I pop open an online thesuarus right in the middle of typing a sentence. It usually bears fruit.
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    Sometimes the simplest word is the best. I've heard "never use the word 'walk'" before, or some variation of that. I was working on a TV script a few months back in which two characters are walking to their car while arguing. I guess I could've used the word 'traverse' or something, but that would've drawn attention to the least important part of the scene and maybe would've demanded some sort of payoff.

    If the story's premise is interesting, the characters feel real and have distinct voices, and the conflict is strong, I feel the words you use are often the least important aspect of writing.
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