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Posts Tagged ‘emotional vocabulary’

Snippet of emotions from written list

I did the emotional vocabulary exercise this weekend. The exercise is this: For five minutes, list every emotion you can think of. Write as fast as you can. Don’t stop to think.

Except, after five minutes were up, I kept going. I went for an hour, and then as I typed my list into the computer I went further. Eventually I stopped, but afterwards, when I was slicing potatoes or brushing my teeth, I’d think, Did I remember excited?

The next step of the exercise was to take one of the emotions from my list and do a 15-minute writing practice on it. I thought about emotions all weekend — lust and envy, distress and kindness — yet I never made it to the writing practice.

I shared my list with Ritergal, and she shared her list with me. When I saw some of the emotions in her document, I was like Homer Simpson when he realizes he’s missed something obvious. Doyt, how could I have forgotten flabbergasted?

I’m not going to publish my list, but I do want to share these things I learned in the process of doing the exercise:

  1. I often used strings of words to describe emotions — loopy for someone, out to get you, walking on water, all over the map, on pins and needles. I was quick to find a way to say what I wanted, even when I couldn’t pinpoint the one word that captured it exactly. It was empowering to realize I can get where I need to go with the words I have.
  2. I sometimes wondered whether something was an emotion or not. After I did the exercise, I googled “what is emotion” and found this helpful link.
  3. Each emotion I wrote triggered another. When I fell into a negative streak, I flew with it. Then I balanced with opposites. It was like flying in zigzags with words.
  4. Whenever I got stuck, I used the prompt I feel…. That always got me started again.


This exercise made me think of the song “Feelings” by the band Gemini. It came out when I was in 7th grade. Thecla and I were in love with Kenny Martinez, who in turn loved Carmen.

I was nothing but emotion that year. Hating Carmen, who was actually my best friend. Lusting over Kenny in his polyester bell bottoms. Finding solace that I at least had a budding friendship with Thecla, which perhaps was better than Kenny, better even than Carmen. Thecla was loyal in a way neither of them were.

Up until 7th grade, emotions were like arms or bony knees or movements of my body — something you just had. But in 7th grade I suddenly found words to describe what I was feeling. Puppy love. Infatuation. Longing. Insecurity.

Ritergal said: “The golden nugget I have discovered the last few days is that a five-minute writing exercise can turn into a potentially life-changing event. Exploration and review of one small area may ripple out into your whole life or way of thinking.”

I’m right there with her, and I honestly still don’t know why. Somehow I think it has to do with emotions being at the core of writing practice.

Then again, it might have everything to do with that blasted song.

               One page from my list

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Dios Mío, pen and ink and pencil, November 2007, doodle © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



Here is a test. For the next five minutes, list every emotion you can think of. Write as fast as you can. Don’t stop to think.

How many did you come up with? Ten? Twenty?

I could make something up and say, 30 and over means you have a rich emotional vocabulary and, thus, deep emotional intelligence. Ten and under means you need help.

Ah, but this isn’t really a test. This is an exercise to bring light to the richness of human emotion.

Happiness and sadness and anger are like green and blue and red. Primary colors. A writer needs a broad palette.

So, after you’ve made your list of emotions (and grown it a bit as you remember all the emotions you forgot the first time you made the list), pick one. Use it as a prompt for a fifteen-minute writing practice.

Write everything you know about that emotion — when you’ve owned it, when it has owned you, how you’ve used it, why you gravitate toward it or avoid it, where you got it from. If your 15 minutes are up yet you still have more to say, keep writing. Go as deep as you can with that emotion.

Emotion. In motion. Go.

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