For Writers, Words Happen. But How?

As you write, do your ideas come to you in the form of words or do they come in the form of image, sense, or emotion?  If it’s the latter, how do you translate those sensual experiences into words that convey the experience for readers?

Before Words: How to Think Like A Poet, from the Psychology Today blog Imagine That! explains how for writers such as T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Virginia Woolf, “writing begins in a land without language.”

Read more.

Resources: Psychology Today, The Daily Post

10 thoughts on “For Writers, Words Happen. But How?

  1. Very interesting topic Olivia. I’ve never thought about how the words come to me. Isuppose they come in different forms at different times. For instance, when I’m upset, for any reason, I MUST write to “get it all out”, without throwing things, (yes, I admit it), so in that case it’s definitely emotion that pulls the words forth. Of course I rarely use those words for any specific work, it’s more like journaling, but I do sometimes find interesting tidbits in these rants, (for lack of a better word), often one sentence will lead to a whole new story idea.

    When I sit down with the intention of writing a story, I picture the scene in my mind, then let the characters do the talking, I don’t even think about the words, I just translate them.

    Gracious, I could probably write an essay on this topic! 🙂 Thanks so much for this great post!

    1. “When I sit down with the intention of writing a story, I picture the scene in my mind, then let the characters do the talking, I don’t even think about the words, I just translate them.” Yes, that’s it exactly. Let them talk, in their own voices, and let the scene develop. Otherwise it will seem very airless to the reader, like the writer is pushing chess pieces around.

  2. In answer to the main question, ideas almost always come to me in words, or in interactions between characters (body language, facial expressions, etc.). My writing is almost all dialogue and action, very little about the experiences of the senses.

    I even wrote a sex scene once which was mainly a debate between the two particpants about the purpose of human life. 🙂

    1. Hi Anthony. My writing tends to lean towards that style, as well, although I can’t say I’d be able to keep my characters in debate mode during sex. Very funny!

      Often, especially as I revise, I realize I need to describe much more in order to effectively develop my characters and slow the plot. Dialogue comes easier, more naturally, but using sensory description is also very valuable.

      Script writing sounds like it could be your niche.

      1. Well, I did realize once that my writing was more influenced by movies than by novels (I talked about it here: But I’ve never been tempted to write screenplays, though I had a friend who wanted to collaborate once (“With your dialog skills and my plotting, we’ll conquer the world!!!”). I declined, mostly because I was (and am) having more fun doing what I do. And his plot sounded stupid.

      2. Collaboration can definitely be risky. But then, so can conquering the world. Your friend sounds ambitious.

        I’d guess by your blog that you’ve seen a lot more movies than I ever have, and I suppose we’re all influenced by what we like. I wonder if there is a significant difference between writers that write novels in hopes of a movie deal and writers that never consider the prospect. It does change your audience a little.

  3. Yes, I thought the Psychology Today article was fascinating, too. I never thought about how the words develop, but after reading the article it’s in my consciousness, and I think that will help my writing flow more smoothly. Thanks, Deanna and Anthony for your comments. Hearing about your process is even more mind-opening.

    1. Images, film reel, but often snippets of conversation, dialogue.

      That’s how it starts for me, mostly. But once started, I hear words.

      And then just write them.

      And then I revise. 🙂

  4. You always offer great links, Olivia.

    For me, I think in words first as images themselves. For example, if I don’t know how to correctly spell a word, that word will never occur to me in thought because I can’t see it spelled out in my imagination. I actually read my own thoughts in my head before I speak or write… which can drive some people crazy because I can also refer back to those words, and the words of others, with a great attention to detail. This also means that words sometimes dictate how I see something and how I feel about it, instead of being affected by something and then having to put those ideas into words.

    I suppose that for most, this isn’t the case, and it’s very interesting to see how different people transform images, ideas, and emotion into language.

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