Hello and welcome to this week’s blog entry where we will talk about an exercise from mastering the writer’s exercise series. This month’s spotlight is on the „word vomit” exercise.
You probably know the drill for „word vomiting:” whatever comes to mind, write it down. Literally, every single thing. No matter the subject, no matter the grammar, just write write write! The point is to let it all out, hence the „vomit” part.
However, sometimes the simple write-down-everything-you-think thing might not be as effective as we would hope. After all, exercises should shape writing skills, not act as meaningless busy work.
Thus, I present you with a few ways to level-up the exercise:
Choose a specific voice
Figuring out even a vague direction of which way to go keeps me from running around in circles. When I decide who I am in the beginning, it helps me shape how to say what I want to say. And that is an important skill for creating character voices, whether in narration or dialogue.
Example: let’s say that I have some beef with my MIL (mother in law) about feeding the kids sugar treats. It’s been sitting in my head for a couple of days and I have been unable to concentrate on anything else - especially writing my novel. So, to let my frustration out and find a little relief in comedy, I word vomit in the voice of… Gollum:
- We sees that you have brought our Precious some snacksees. We do not like snacksees!
- Oh, but we does, we does like snacksees very much…
- Shut up! We do not!
- But we does, we likes to eat snacksees in secret, hiding behind the kitchen counter, where Precious can’t see us…
- No, we don’t! And if you bring our Precious more snacksees, we will bite your fingers off…
- …and then eat all the snacksees… precious snacksees!
That was way more fun than I expected. Let’s keep going!
Really. I use this all the time when I feel stressed and I don’t even have a moment to write - I complain in rhyme! Just going with the flow and accepting that my day is not going as well as it could and rhyming with it.
You should see me washing the dishes and just mumbling:
Here I am, once again (now I got a melody too!)
I keep washing these dishes
But oh my, my only wish is
That tonight, we could try
To keep this counter nice and bright
Just this single time
Please no more messes
Late night stresses
In the evening I like to take it easy
Not washing a pan that’s super greasy
That’s it, I’m done
I’m going to bed, everyone!
Maybe this isn’t Emily Dickinson but who cares! Let your brain have some fun instead of just moping about not being able to write… ;)
Hit the dictionary
Not literally. If you are vomiting away for some time, and are still having difficulty trying to focus on 1 subject, then it is a good idea to go old school and open up the dictionary. Randomly find these 3 things: noun, verb, adjective. Boom. There’s your story.
Now try to connect all 3 by just writing and leaving all your thoughts there, no matter how silly. You’ll edit them out later. In my attempt below I left my ramblings crossed out, just to show you that word vomits can be neatly edited.
Here’s my random word group: ticket, to stride, unequal. Wooh! I got butterflies in my stomach! Let’s go!
"He strode along the hot no the scorching pavement… uhhh where is this dude, the big the large bricks were gray like his suit… and in his pocket he clutched the ticket. His fingers were sweaty, it almost melted in there like ice, like ice? No wtf…. Alright, now for the ‚unequal’ what can I write in here that is unequal omgeeee The unequal walking strolling of other wandering passengers was like water cut through by his sharp-edged steps. Yeesssss He was sure of what he was going to do."
BAM! I already feel the excitement! The random 3 loose ends already shaped something fascinating in my brain. Who knows, maybe this exercise is the magical bean out of which I shall grow my novel?
Mind map it
Since we’re on the subject of making connections, let’s talk about mind mapping. Hopefully you’ve heard of it, but if not, I will gladly introduce you to this important tool of mine. The mind map can be a form of the word vomit exercise, just a little more organized, so it’s great for visual learners.
Take a sheet of paper, a pen. Start with whatever thought you might have at the moment and write it in the middle. Circle it. Then write whatever short phrase or word comes to mind after that. Circle it too. Draw a line between the circles. Then write the next thing. Connect with a line. And so on. Delete the fluff, just keep the main words.
The point is to make the connections between your thoughts more visible, as well as edit the unnecessary words in your brain before they even appear on paper.
Assuming I’m writing a novel and I’m stuck on building a character, a mind map is useful to explore many options.
Here’s my example:
Adolescent boy - good heart - not good with people - but good at reading them - using the information - for good or bad? - his struggle - choosing a side - bad side temptations - good side hopes - fears of abandonment - hopes for love - fears of judgment - hopes for inclusion
See how the themes just float to the surface? Writing down all the options and seeing the connections not only aided me in building the character, but also in seeing possible themes in the overall story.
Choose a specific audience or person
Like number 1, this one is also centered around finding a specific voice but focuses on the audience. You can try writing to a target group, like preschoolers, but what works even better is if you keep only one person in mind.
Now, you can still be you, or you can combine that with number 1 and choose a voice for yourself and a conversation buddy.
Let’s address the sugar treat issue as Donald Trump giving a speech to his opponents. And just for shits and giggles, maybe it would go something like this:
„The thing we have been doing here is what this country is all about. Freedom. The freedom to not give my children sugar snacks - that is our freedom. And if you try to take our freedom, we will not stand it. We will fight. And we will win. Because sugary snacks - bad. And freedom - good.”
Or maybe I’m feeling dangerous and I want to be direct - so I become the Godfather speaking to his fellow mafia member:
„You come here on the day of my son’s birthday and you disrespect me by bringing dolce, snacks. Why would you do that? I have ordered you not to do that. My son, he cannot say no to temptation. He is simple like that. And now - sugar overload. He suffers - and when my son suffers, I suffer. And for that you must bear the consequence.”
Makes me feel better already.
So, my dear Writer, I really do hope that you will give some of these ideas a swing. Remember: sometimes it is good to keep things in mind for a long time, let them age well and enjoy later. But your mind is not a jar of pickles, so when things start sizzling, popping the lid, making a mess and leaving a foul odor everywhere, it’s time for a good word vomit, my friend.
I believe in you, Writer.
M. B. Auburn
M. B. Auburn
Written for The Plottery
M.B. Auburn: millennial wife and mom of 2, dancing her way through her 30s and finally bravely claiming the title: Writer.