Painting with Words


One of the many joys I get from writing is in choosing words. To me, they all have shades, from the lightest ivory to the darkest black, and choosing just the right shade to portray the emotion that I’m going for is a hobby. Like a pastel painter, I play and blend until I have the exact meaning I want.

To explain how I do it, this is from a book I just turned in to my agent – It’s a woman, after her husband got an ALS diagnosis.

This was a key scene; the emotion had to be real and raw. So first, I closed my eyes and sat with it—imagined what I’d feel if I found out my husband had 3-6 months to live, and every moment of that time, he’d be suffering.

Obviously it’s distressing, but HOW? How would this change my life long term? Short term? Grief is there, of course, but what else? Fear, right? What does that feel like? I mean viscerally, inside my body? Inside my mind? There are a zillion ways to describe it, but I decided to use two things – being lost and not knowing what to do, and cold – the kind of cold inside that you can’t get away from.

Then I went to my go-to online tool, The One Look thesaurus (, and looked up ‘cold’. Here’s the list:

1. ice-cold
2. gelid
3. frigid
4. frosty
5. acold
6. frore
7. algid
8. parky
9. bleak
10. cool
11. icy
12. wintry
13. chilled
14. freezing
15. intense
16. crisp
17. nippy
18. frigorific
19. dead
20. stone-cold
21. inhuman
22. inhumane
23. shivery
24. shivering
25. frosted
26. Rimy
27. refrigerant
28. nipping
29. emotionless
30. passionless
31. far
32. cutting
33. snappy
34. perfect
35. insensate
36. rimed
37. unenthusiastic
38. old
39. iced
40. heatless
41. stale
42. unconscious
43. glacial
44. unloving
45. Arctic
46. raw
47. cold-blooded
48. polar
49. unwarmed
50. unheated
51. common cold
52. low temperature
53. refrigerated
54. chilly
55. warm
56. rainy
57. snowy
58. bloodedness
59. winter
60. damp
61. foggy
62. windy
63. dark
64. humid
65. swelteringly
66. cloudy
67. muggy
68. blowy
69. drizzly
70. ungenial
71. miserable
72. blistery
73. wintery
74. frostbitten
75. icey
76. slushy
77. unfeeling
78. sleety
79. stormy
80. subzero


A lot of them didn’t work, but I shortened the list to







Those weren’t the exact right shade either, but it got my brain moving in the right direction. I sorted through words in my mind until I found the exact one I was looking for.

Then, I wanted to describe what scrambled, panicky thoughts felt like. You know, when you’re so freaked that you can’t even follow one thought to the end until another takes it’s place. You end up nowhere but exhausted at the end.

This is what I eventually ended up with:

I won’t burden Roger with my anger, and the massive, below-the-surface iceberg of pain. And fear.

The fear is a live thing inside my chest, chewing and tearing, trying to get out. To keep my hands busy, I mindlessly clean while my mind runs mazes of scenarios, each ending in dark, blind alleys that turn my blood to an icy slurry. I back away, only to scurry down another.

Ah. So satisfying.


  1. Terrie on April 9, 2023 at 9:06 am

    Love. Love. Love the depth of this blog. Word play is so interesting and important when trying to pull an emotion together.

    • Laura Drake on April 9, 2023 at 9:34 am

      Thanks Terrie. It’s like the Olympics, right? You see that couple, gliding across the ice, making jumps look effortless.

      But learning to do it is anything but effortless.

  2. Karen Hackett on April 9, 2023 at 1:14 pm

    Finding the right word to convey the emotion to the reader can be a challenge. When I need a certain word, I Goggle words and check the definition. Thanks for giving the link of The One Look thesaurus!

    • Laura Drake on April 9, 2023 at 1:47 pm

      Hope it helps Karen – I keep it open every day when I’m writing!

  3. Nancy Schreib on April 9, 2023 at 2:25 pm

    I love how you paint with words: the emotion, the fear and the joys. The thesaurus is such an amazing little book. I carried one with me constantly in college. Now, it’s on my phone. Happy Writing.

    • Laura Drake on April 9, 2023 at 2:32 pm

      Thanks, Nancy. The internet is a time sink, but man, I love the benefits.

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