look it up

I have a decent vocabulary. As a writer, your vocabulary is kind of like a commodity. You don’t want to go nuts littering your stories with seldom used, random words, but it’s good to mix things up a bit.

So anything you can do to brush up on and strengthen your vocabulary is probably a good thing, and I’ve got a suggestion for you so painfully simple you may not have thought to do it. When you read (and I assume you read because good writers are readers) and come across a word you don’t know the meaning of…look it up.

Even though my vocabulary is nothing to sneeze at, I still come across words I don’t know the exact meaning of all the time, especially when reading books like A Dance With Dragons, George RR Martin‘s fifth A Song of Ice and Fire book, which I am currently reading. A Song of Ice and Fire is set in a Tolkienesque world, and Martin frequently uses language that I’m not familiar with. Sure, I can generally sort out the meaning of words based on the context they’re used in, but that doesn’t tell me what they actually mean. To find that out, I turn to a dictionary. (Well, not an actual dictionary. I typically use dictionary.com.)

I figure, why not? It’s a learning experience for me. It broadens my scope as a writer and givens me yet another tool to use when working my own craft. It’s easy, takes very little time and is rewarding. Seems like a no-brainer.

I would encourage you to do the same. Don’t go getting all embarrassed when you come across a word you don’t know. No one even needs to know you’re turning to a dictionary for help. Just quietly look the word up, make note of its meaning and move on. Before long, you’ll find your vocabulary growing by leaps and bounds. Or hops and vaults. Or springs and skips.

You get the idea.

The dictionary is your friend. Use it.

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