Love words (a Saint Valentine's Day special)
Updated: Feb 19, 2020
Today happens to be Saint Valentine's Day so I want to remind you, my dear readers, to show some love to your friends, family members, significant others and, why not, strangers too. On a blog about writing, though, I want to take the opportunity to tell you about how important it is to love words if you want to be a really good author. Writing is built one word at a time so words are the bricks, tools and weapons that you absolutely must master if you want to make your writing stand out and be enjoyable for the reader.
How do you love words, you may ask. Well, like in any other loving relationship, you cannot express that love for one day a year only. A love for words is something you build and nurture throughout the years.
First of all, read. I cannot emphasise that enough. Read widely and obsessively, and, ideally, many different genres (genres and publications tend to have their own set vocabulary so if you always read the same sort of stuff, you will not be exposed to the wide range of words that exist). When you come across a word you do not know, don't just skim over it or pretend that it does not exist. Get a dictionary and look it up instead. Yes, you probably understood the meaning of the sentence without knowing what that word means exactly but that word still added nuance. The author did not use that word just to add to the word count. If you fully understand the word, you will better understand the sentence, the context and what the writer is trying to say.
And, sure, if it is a very unusual word which you will not come across again for the next six years, chances are that you will forget the meaning of the word and you will have to look it up again in the future, but it's still nice to have that word lodged somewhere in the recesses of your mind. A little part of you will still know that that word exists and you might be able to use it one day. Some writers keep notebooks full of words that they come across but I think that only the most disciplined of people can keep that going for years so I won't necessarily suggest that to the average Jane and Joe.
At this point, I should admit that we all have moments when we are wont not to look up words and just keep reading instead so we can get to the end of the chapter, book, essay or article. Sometimes, it's because we are in a hurry, other times, it's because we are satisfied with the level of meaning we got from the context that the unusual word was used in and, sometimes, it's because we are lazy and can't be bothered to deviate from our reading. It's all right to have these moments. Not all reading is created equal. If you read several things a day, you cannot necessarily expect yourself to read everything with the same intensity and care. But what I am trying to get across is that being curious about the words you encounter is something you can make a healthy habit out of. Your vocabulary will increase exponentially if you do this.
My second tip for your nourishing a budding romance with words is to get used to writing with a thesaurus nearby. All thesis writers use dictionaries but not enough use thesauri. A simple rule of thumb of when you should consult your thesaurus is if you have used the same word multiple times in the same sentence or the same paragraph. Readers quickly get bored of seeing the same word over and over again. They might even conclude that you are unimaginative or a poor writer. So if a word is starting to spread across your paragraphs as fast as the corona virus, it is time to spice things up with some synonyms and vary your word usage. A romance can also be an affair, a flirtation, a fling, a courtship, a relationship or an affair of the heart.
Obviously, there are nuances between synonyms and you cannot always substitute one for the other so you must always keep this in mind and be aware of the precise meaning of the words you are laying down. Sometimes, I spend several minutes going through a thesaurus entry until I find the exact word that conveys what I am trying to say. There are also words which don't have that many synonyms and the way to add variety in these cases is to rewrite the sentence in a totally different way instead of simply switching a word. And have you ever been writing and you felt deep down in your heart that there is a better word that you can use instead of the one you just wrote down? These are the moments when you should get intimate with your thesaurus. The internet makes using dictionaries, thesauri and encyclopedias really quick and efficient so there really is no excuse for not using them more often.
Remember, love words and your writing will flourish.
As always, happy writing.
P.S. In the spirit of spreading some love, anyone who sends a document for proofreading by midnight today can get SIX pages proofread for free. Send your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org