As a writer I love words. I enjoy utilizing and finding new words, but I’m also quite fond of certain words I’ve been using since I was in grade school. I call them my go-to words because I often go to them when I want to make a point, or when I’m stuck on something that is difficult to get past. But when I’m writing for an audience I spend a lot of time and focus on making sure I don’t repeat myself too often, that I mix it up so that I sound fresh instead of stale. That’s part of the organic nature of writing for an audience that someone who writes only for themselves never cares about.
When I write I like to keep a thesaurus handy. I’ve had one since junior year of high school that has been thumbed through so much the binding has loosened in strength. Sometimes when I open it up it stays open, even when it’s not quite to the exact middle of that book. Often I try out new words like regular people try on clothing. The thesaurus is my dressing room for words, my connection to the new and the fantastic, and I treasure it as much as I do the writing itself. Because it is a key part to the process.
“Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.”
It’s funny, though, because when I first heard of a thesaurus I was dying to get one. It was the new age of online computing in the early 90s, and when I used Word Perfect I found that I could highlight words and change them. The glory of the online thesaurus, at least as utilized by Word Perfect, allowed me to insert synonyms for words I tended to use often, and I took full advantage of it from the start. I had written a short story about a benign superhero that I felt needed some spicing up, so I went back into the manuscript and I used the thesaurus on every single word besides “and,” “the,” and “a.” When I was done the results were indeed laughable, but they sparked my creativity.
I think I still have a copy of both manuscripts around here somewhere, the one I first wrote, and the one that the thesaurus chewed up and spit out. Most of the syntax on the second copy is vague and/or ludicrous because there aren’t many “true” synonyms to words, and it made no sense. But it sounds high-brow to people who don’t know what the words mean, and I realized that’s what many writers do today. They sound just like thesauruses, their words used to show off their vocabulary instead of to enhance their story, which is the exact opposite of what should happen.
So, even though I use my thesaurus a lot, to research and to find new words, I rarely take those words out on a play date, getting them dirty in the sandbox of my writing, because I know the power of the writer’s mind, and I know the power of word choice. I like to roll those new words around in my mouth, to try and parse them out, to see if they will fit without overwhelming the rest of the words I already have on the screen, and I only use them if they enhance without taking away the focus of those words. Because for me it’s all about the intent. It’s all about making something that takes a lot of time and effort seem effortless.
I love my thesaurus because it helps me keep my possibilities open without forcing me into something I don’t want to do. I just need to remember that tools are tools for a reason, and they’re only helpful when we know when to use them. And when not.