Before starting this post, I went into the closet in my office in search of three plastic sandwich bags full of folded slips of different colored paper with words typed on them. I’ve used those bags (and words) in my own creative writing exercises as well as in writing workshops. I found one bag full of lime green nouns, one bag full of fuchsia verbs, and one bag full of teal adjectives. I opened the teal bag without recalling what kind of words were inside and pulled out new. New is good—and so apt for the beginning of a post!
I’ve been playing around with individual words and phrases for decades. My Stance Keyword Comparison Checklist was an outgrowth of a long-term fascination with arranging and grouping words that seem to evoke a concept or a mood or an attitude or a way of being. Sometimes it’s easier to gauge your reaction to a list of keywords than it is to read through narrative descriptions. A single word can send you off on a journey, much like the madeleine that sent Marcel Proust off in Remembrance of Things Past.
When I was a substance abuse counselor, I used a two-page handout called “How Do You Feel Today?” It consisted of 140 words that described feeling states, each one illustrated by what was essentially an emoticon (although I’m pretty sure the handout pre-dated emoticons). It wasn’t in color, but it looked a little like this example (without the misspelling).
Then I came across a laminated poster based on the same concept, but with far fewer than 140 feeling words and emoticons. It was standard practice at the beginning of group sessions at the clinic for everyone to take turns checking in to let the group know how they were doing and what had transpired since the previous week. I wondered what would happen if we switched to using the feeling words poster in place of the usual check-in. So one day I stuck the poster on a wall and asked everyone to take a long look at it before sitting down so they could find the word that best represented how they were feeling or the state they were in at that moment.
The results were amazing and quite profound. Check-in took a fraction of the time. No one felt compelled to elaborate. And we all agreed we had a much better sense of what was going on with each person than we’d had with the standard check-ins. My take was that having to come up with a single word caused them to really focus and get in touch with how they were doing on a deeper level. It helped them make a transition so they could be fully present at the start of the session. It seemed that previously it had taken the entire check-in period before everyone was “present.” So, by unanimous agreement, we stuck with the feeling words check-in from then on.
Keyword Journaling Exercises
Keywords can be incorporated into a number of different journal writing exercises and techniques. A few suggestions:
- Use a single keyword or a string of keywords as a prompt for timed flow writing.
- Mind-map a keyword (as an option, when your mind-map is complete, finish with a period of timed flow writing).
- Make a grab bag like my plastic sandwich bags by cutting out slips of paper and writing keywords on them. Pull one out at random to use as a writing prompt.
- Create a sentence or a question around a keyword to use as a writing prompt.
You could make a list of keywords (positive, negative, and neutral) that describe your type and then experiment with using them in one or two of the exercises.
Or you could click on these lists of expanded keywords for the Aggressive, Withdrawing, andCompliant stances. Since you can print the pages, you could easily cut out the words and turn them into slips of paper for a grab bag.
One of the great things about keywords is although they’re small, they pack a lot of punch.