I've tried to write without thinking, but that doesn't really worked that well. I need time to formulate my thoughts before I commit them to paper or screen. Since I'm not a native English speaker, my vocabulary is limited.

How do you come up with the right words while writing? Do you use provisional words and replace them later with words found in a dictionary or do you stop and look up that particular word?

  • 1
    Why aren't you writing in your native language? Is the process different if you do? Do you struggle for word choice in your native language as well? Dec 1 '11 at 13:05
  • 1
    I experience similar problems in my native language, although I know more words. Coming up with those words still takes a long time, sometimes days, requiring me to edit a blog post that has been published. I wished I had a more effective way to pick the right words while I'm writing. Somehow the act of writing is blinding my word choice. Dec 1 '11 at 13:34

I agree with Craig that you should write using the most common words that you are familiar with and feel comfortable using. Remember that you are working on the first draft, and it doesn't have to be perfect. I'll often just type in some running commentary to remind me that I need to come back and fill in more detail. For example, if I am having a difficult time describing the setting for a particular scene, I will simply write something like this:

Come back and provide more detail on the setting.

I usually place a couple of extra empty lines before and affter this commentary so that it stands out more when I get ready to edit the first draft. In fact, I will go back through the first draft and look for things like that before I start editing, so I'm technically still working on the first draft.

The main point is to find a way to keep yourself from getting too bogged down with details. Write your story through and then go back and improve as you edit. It might also help to have a general outline or timeline to help you keep your thoughts in order and to help keep you focused on where you are going and what you want to accomplish.

  • 3
    A similar technique is to put the gaps in square brackets. You can leave yourself notes about what you want to achieve: "He looked at the setting. [describe here] He felt [a bunch of stuff which made him realize he had to return home]." I also color my fillers magenta, so they're very easy to pick out when skimming. Dec 1 '11 at 16:37

While you're writing, I suggest you write using words you know, in the simplest language possible, and then deal with the issue of choosing the right word during your editing phase.

As a very basic example, you could write:

She spoke with a low voice, "I love you."

Later, you could look up in a dictionary and realise the word you wanted is "whispered".

Or maybe you prefer the description of "spoke with a low voice", but regardless, leave it for editing. The reason for this is because if you stop and hunt for a word every time, you'll likely break your flow. Better to write and fix it later.

In the meantime, I suggest you read as much as possible, and write down any and all words you come across that you like (and read their definitions) so you can start to internalise these words more.

  • 4
    Or write the word in your native language. No shame about that. If you are immersed in more than one language, you will find words in the wrong language popping into your mind. It's how our retention work.
    – daphshez
    Dec 1 '11 at 17:07
  • Great suggestion, @Daphna. Dec 1 '11 at 17:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.