This morning, as I sit here wrapped in my cream-colored faux-sheepskin throw (it’s cold in my early-morning office) reading Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, a little bird, a finch maybe, small but full-throated and insistent sings me a good morning song. So excited is she that I must drop the throw, put down the book, and peer out the window. I, too, am as thrilled as my early morning co-conspirator when I see the sky is blushing pink in the East. After a day of pouring rain yesterday, it’s lovely to see that promise of blue sky, hope for a day without umbrellas and boots, raincoats and rain pants. I lean over my desk to search for the feathery noise-maker and catch glimpses of movement in the spidery branches of my neighbor’s plum tree, bare now of its deep wine-colored leaves. There are several of them hopping from branch to branch, calling to each other in their bird language I only wish I could understand. I imagine it’s something like, Hey, over here, some berries! Of course there are no berries on the plum tree so I have to re-think this. Maybe they’re playing a game of hide and seek, or, like young children, just jumping around with the energy of the new day.
Energized now too, I turn back to my Portable Mentor and re-read a section about playing with words, specifically Long’s ideas about how to increase your writing vocabulary by creating a personal lexicon. I remember reading this before and even starting my own lexicon. But I didn’t do it properly or for very long. Here’s how you do it: buy yourself a beautiful (lined or unlined) blank book that you love, one that’s small enough to carry around easily. When you come across a great word in your reading, write that word on the top of one of the pages, then draw a horizontal line in the middle of the page — only two words per page are best. Later, look up that word and write the definition on the page. (Note: Priscilla has lots of ideas about which dictionary is best. Check out her book here: http://www.priscillalong.com/
Remember, this lexicon you’re making is not meant for obscure Latinate words, not “big” words, but words that sound good to you, fun words, expressive words, hot and juicy words . She suggests starting with lickspittle. I like it, so I look it up: noun, a contemptible, fawning person; a flatterer or toady. Now this definition surprises me a little because I thought lickspittle would be an adjective, but it’s a noun. My dictionary adds a fawning underling to the definition and I immediately get a picture of Uriah Heap in Dickens’ David Copperfield — he’s always so ‘umble. I can’t imagine using the word lickspittle, it seems a little outdated, but then, maybe some unctuous character in a future novel would dismiss someone else as a lickspittle.
I found it at my favorite bookstore, Elliot Bay Books. It’s made in Port Townsend by the Watermark Bindery. And when I turn to the last page I see it’s signed: Hand bound by Virginia Marston, Port Townsend, Washington, 2010. I love that! I want to put Virginia in one of my novels!
And, also, I can’t wait to start finding some fun, juicy words to add to it. Here are just a few I noticed while reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of all Things: drench, dangle, cabal, rogue, caprice.
Try it. Create your own personal lexicon. I bet you’ll have some fun.