Stealing Words

My name is Lea Wait, and I am a thief.

I steal words.

I don’t steal more than one, or possibly two, at a time, so tracing their origins would be impossible, even for me. I steal them from friends and relatives and CNN commentators. I boldly take them from overheard conversations at grocery stores and farmers’ markets and coffee shops. I slip them away from moments of my life not dedicated to writing, when they sneak into my consciousness at three in the morning, or when I’ll filling up my car at a gas station. But, worst of all, most of the words I’ve stolen come from those in my own profession. I steal from other writers. 

I steal words for the same reason a jeweler might steal a jewel: they are so perfect I can’t resist taking them and making them my own.

I carry a notebook, as most writers do, and it is in that notebook that I capture those precious, fleeting, words. Often they are sensory words. Images. Words I recognize, I admire, but that I don’t always use myself. Or that I suddenly see, or hear, in a different way. That remind me of smells or sights or tastes that may fit in scenes of the book I’m writing. Treasures, to be hoarded. For now. 

I copy them onto lists, and read them over, cherishing the way they feel, the way they sound, before I write a certain scene, or before beginning my work for the day. They are almost a meditation. Sometimes they form themselves into short phrases.

What are some of the words and phrases on my list now, as I plan a new book?

“Wishing stones. Frayed. Wafted. Cobalt blue. Gray skeletal pilings. The scent of lavender in an old pine bureau drawer. The front of the house painted white; the back, wind-grayed. Socked-in. Glowing. Fingers grazing. Skittered. Slog. Fragile. Mud and mould and rotting fish. Screams of fishers in the dark. Creak of hardwood boards. Shabby. Clamoring. Scent of sea lavender. Groggy. Ceiling cracks.”

And many more. Some of those will no doubt end up finding homes in my book. Some will not. But reading them over will remind me of scenes I’ve planned. Remind me why I love writing.

Words are only one of a writer’s tools. Go ahead. Steal some of mine. Used by different authors, they tell different stories. And yet, standing alone or in different company, they contain their own messages; sing their own songs. Sing the magic of language. If my words sing to you … maybe they’re yours, too.

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7 Responses to Stealing Words

  1. John Clark says:

    Perfect example: The sign at Hussey’s General Store in Windsor: “Guns, Wedding Gowns, Cold Beer.” There’s a great story in that sign, but I have yet to write it. Great post.

    • Lea Wait says:

      I love that sign, John! In fact, I’ve been thinking we should do a whole blog about signs in Maine, and have a little section of my notebook (and my photos collection) about them. Just need a few more. But that one is a classic, for sure! Another one, gone but not forgotton, was a pawnbrokers sign on route one near me for years that advertised “Chain Saws and Electric Typewriters!” I never could see that without thinking “Land of Stepehen King”!

  2. Barb Ross says:

    I am a word thief, too, Lea. I just love words, from archaic forms to jargon to the latest teen expressions. Love’em all, suck’em up like a sponge and use them whenever. I had one employee who kept a page in her notebook with every word, expression or metaphor I used that she was unfamiliar with!

  3. Warren Bull says:

    Regional expressions are wonderful. I spent four months in New Zealand and came away with all sorts of gems.

    • Lea Wait says:

      Ohhh, I’m jealous, Warren! A character in the book I’m working on comes from New Zealand, and I’m depending on word lists and movies … not half as good as your experience!

  4. Kathleen March says:

    I don’t consider it stealing. It’s a word community. If we copy, we put quotes around the words,” but usually we just help ourselves to small portions. Words are so delicious.

  5. Lea Wait says:

    Absolutely. No copying. The phrases in my post are ones I’ve put together based on “found words” — or thought of based on an image or moment or …. word.

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