Crossword puzzle your way to better poetry and prose

Guest Post by Tom Mach

Sometimes I think kids are smarter than us in some ways. (That’s a photo of me with fourth graders, who can ask you the greatest questions—like how do we form pictures in our mind from words or why, if we’re so smart why do we have wars?) Anyway, I thought you might benefit from my insight on how to improve your word choice through solving crossword puzzles.

For one thing, crossword puzzle clues make us think in different ways. For instance, if I asked you for a three-letter word for “Atlantic City roller” would you think of “die”? Or a monologist on weeknights? (Leno)  Or the school that expelled James Bond? (Eton) Or, what would you call a well-armed fort? (tenable).  You can use these relationships in poetry. For instance,

As an Atlantic City roller

It posts  a number under seven

But it’ll always take two to die

to make boxcars or eleven.

Okay, maybe that was a bad example, but you get the point. Same thing goes for prose writers. I didn’t know a posada was a Spanish inn or that Pimlico was a Saratoga alternative (hint: Pimlico and Saratoga are race courses), but I learned that from a crossword puzzle and can probably use this in a future story.

I find that crossword puzzle answers give me new words with which to work as well as information about famous people. I didn’t know that “segni” were musical repeats signs or that Eric Lindros was a hockey player or that it was Irene Cara who starred in “Fame.” One never knows when such information might prove to be invaluable in one’s future writing.

Crossword puzzles make your mind work differently. As writers, we have to get out of our rut and make our brains work harder and in new ways. Thinking outside of the box is great for creative writing. I never thought of a spa as a “hydrotherapy facility” or a “savant” as a learned one or that students of Zeno are “stoics.”  Puzzle clues will usually be very deceptive, urging you to think in one direction, although you ought to think in a totally different direction. Example: “They’re on the Met schedule.” New York Mets? No, opera.

If you journal what you ought to do is write done some of the clever clues and the answers that go with them. You never know when you might need them.

Next time you open the newspaper, go to the crossword puzzle section, get out your old yellow No. 2 and start completing as much of it as you can. Then, the next day, check the answers and try to filter as much of this information as you can. Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll be thankful you did when you write your best-selling novel or create a poetry book that wins you the Pulitzer Prize.

Tom Mach wrote two successful historical novels, Sissy! and All Parts Together, both of which have won rave reviews and were listed among the 150 best Kansas books in 2011.Sissy! won the J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award while All Parts Together was a viable entrant for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Award. He also wrote a collection of short stories entitled Stories To Enjoy which received positive reviews. In addition to his new e-book entitled Homer the Roamer, directed toward children 6 – 10 yrs old, he also has recently published Advent and An Innocent Murdered. While he has no current website, all of his books are posted on


Posted on September 29, 2011, in Poetry, Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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