Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘word-riff’

Three ways to use word riffs

One of my favorite writer’s tools is to practice word riffs. To me, word riffing is like playing a musical instrument (of course, that’s where the term riffing comes from). I’m learning to play guitar and one of the things I like to do is randomly strum away, making up my own little songs (often sung to my cats and starring their names—they just love that).

First, some tips for word riffing:

  • Make it fun and playful. Don’t make it serious—if the right word doesn’t come this time, know that it will next time.
  • Use a timer and write fast without stopping. This helps keep me focused and to the point. It allows me to go deeper and find more gems. I set my timer for 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Let it all out—first, you have to dump the garbage to make room for the treasures. Think of decluttering your office space. Once you get rid of the clutter, everything seems to flow better, doesn’t it? It’s the same thing with your brain. Write down everything that comes to your mind—the dumb words, the clichés, etc. If you don’t, you’ll just be storing it to come out later.
  • You can use word riffing for a phrase as well as one single word. Though I find focusing on one word at a time easier and more fun! Read more

Getting inside your character’s mind

Recently, I read Jacki Lyden’s memoir again, Daughter of the Queen of Sheba: A Memoir. I don’t normally read memoirs more than once. But I wanted to re-experience her word riffs and stream of consciousness writing to see if I could find a way to use these tools to go deeper into the minds of my own characters.

Lyden tells the story of growing up and living with a mentally ill mother. Her parents divorced when she was young and, after her mother marries a doctor who turns out to be controlling and abusive, she begins to speak to God and believe that she is the Queen of Sheba.

The author writes the lines below in response to a letter from her mother, who says that she was really never mentally ill, and that her behavior was the result of the prescription drugs her doctor-husband gave her. Lyden writes:

“Never crazy. It never happened to you. Ant Trap Zap! It never happened to me. We’ll throw out those old pages and get some new ones at the K Mart. There is a life I’d like you to try, size six. We can always take it back if it doesn’t fit. You will be a housewife heroine, pushed into adversity by a demanding doctor-husband and prescription drugs, and I will be free forever from the taint of your insanity. Prescription drugs, I tell my friends confidently. Misdiagnosis. Miss Diagnosis. Clodhopper attendants, Nurse Ratched on the case. Dolores naked and chained in a pit. Lions and tigers and bears.” Read more