Yesterday I mentioned the importance of expanding your vocabulary. One way to do this is to make it a habit to look up every new word you encounter. While you may be able to deduce its meaning from the context, often the official definition provides important details. In some cases, it may have even been used incorrectly.
One skill every writer should develop is the ability to use exactly the correct word. The more expansive your vocabulary, the more easily you’ll be able to accomplish this. Such precision contributes to imagery, emotion, action, and all the other elements you want to capture. Learning new words is often useful in this way since it may be just the one you’ll need later.
As you’ve probably figured out if you read these on a regular basis, one of my pet peeves is homonyms. This is one way to separate the amateur writers from the pros. It’s your job to know the difference between they’re, there, and their; your, you’re, and yore; flare and flair; bare and bear; alter and altar; hanger and hangar, just to name a few.
Words are a writer’s tools of the trade. Your vocabulary should be broad and expanding all the time. The other day I was in a group setting where I threw out what to me was a simple word, counter-intuitive. I was a bit surprised when someone was impressed. I just shrugged and said as a writer it was my job to know the right word for a given situation.
If you’re dyslexic, I’m sure this is a considerable challenge. I don’t know how I keep them separated. I do know that sometimes when I’m writing my first draft that I get the wrong word, but I definitely keep an eye out when I start editing. Don’t ever underestimate how smart and/or observant your readers might be. Messing such things up can often be all the justification an astute reader needs to give you a poor review.
Yesterday I pointed out that overuse of adverbs is a common mistake of new writers. Adjectives are in that same category. For example, instead of saying “he lived in a small house” try “he lived in a cottage.” What image does that evoke? How about “he lived in a shack?” Or “he lived in a bungalow?” In many cases the right word takes care of what you’re trying to say. In others, you might want to add “rundown” or “well-maintained”, but only when it’s truly required and adds something other than to the unnecessary word count. Use them sparingly and they’ll have more impact.
Being more specific and finding exactly the right word to capture the image and feeling you want to convey is a challenge, but once achieved is the mark of a true professional.
Do you ever read the dictionary? Words are an author’s tools. Your vocabulary will determine the quality of your writing. Using the word that precisely expresses your meaning strengthens your writing.
By reading the dictionary from time to time, you’d be surprised what you might discover that will come in useful. Along those lines, when you’re reading and encounter an unfamiliar word, look it up. While you may be able to discern its meaning from the context, it is likely to have a certain slant that adds to the sentence’s meaning.
This is the kind of precision that makes your writing stronger.