Writers and Vocabulary

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

The famous Stephen King said it, and so many more agree.

I vehemently say this to every writer I know. Why? Because it amazes me how many writers don’t read on a regular basis.

By reading, you’re expanding your creativity, your stories, your life, and even your vocabulary. And your vocabulary is vital.

Today, I wanted to concentrate on expanding your vocabulary and why it’s so important. I’ve sort of written about this before—Writing Tips: Build Your Vocabulary —where I discussed how you should not only read a lot, but pay attention while reading. This includes marking every word or phrase you come across that you’re unsure of, so that you can come back later to study them. I call this a vocabulary study guide.


So what is my vocabulary study guide?

I create one every time I read a book. While reading, I circle words, and after I’m finished, I study them. This list includes words I don’t know, words that catch me off guard, words I know but forget to remember, and words I simply want to concentrate on more, maybe because they’re beautiful or strange or perfect for certain scenarios.

How do I organize it?

Personally, I categorize words by most likely subject. By feelings or people or places or, my personal favorite, body parts and other medical things. (Example from below? Carbuncle: a severe abscess or multiple boil in the skin, typically infected with staphylococcus bacteria.) Sometimes, though, I organize my lists by words I need extra help on. In my below example for instance, I circled inscrutable FOUR times in the SAME book. (And this isn’t the first book I circled it in.) Why? I know this word. I do. But for some reason, whenever I’m reading or writing, my brain stumbles over it. I want, more than anything, for inscrutable to become natural to me.

So here is a literal example from my most recent read.

All of these words come from Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, a young adult book about prohibition, asylums, and hemopaths, people capable of creating illusions through song, poetry, and art. I highly recommend this diverse read, and I hope this list of beautiful words encourages you to check it out. Seriously. Everything in this post comes from that book. If you’re curious, here’s my book review on Goodreads.

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria Study Guide:

Five Senses:


Raucously: making or constituting a disturbingly harsh and loud noise

Sonorous: (of a person’s voice or other sound) imposingly deep and full


Redolent: fragrant and sweet smelling OR strongly reminiscent or suggestive of

Another reason to learn? Wooing women. 😉


Avaricious: having or showing an extreme greed for wealth or material gain

Imperturbable: unable to be upset or excited; calm

Languorous: the state or feeling, often pleasant, of tiredness or inertia

Temerity: excessive confidence or boldness; audacity

Beatific: blissfully happy

Body parts/Medical:

Carbuncle: a severe abscess or multiple boil in the skin, typically infected with staphylococcus bacteria.

Paunchy: a large or protruding abdomen or stomach.

Relating to People:

Spectacled: wearing spectacles

Haughty: arrogantly superior and disdainful

Stodgy: dull and uninspired, ex. stodgy old men

Gaggle: a disorderly or noisy group of people (also a flock of geese)

Expression: Speaking/Writing:

Asperity: harshness of tone or manner

Succinctly: (especially of something written or spoken) briefly and clearly expressed

Other Description:

Inscrutable: impossible to understand or interpret

Ostensibly: apparently or purportedly, but perhaps not actually

Anathema: something or someone that one vehemently dislikes

You might think you know every word you read, but really, if you slow down and ask yourself what the literal definitions of words are (rather than relying on context), you’ll force yourself to look up more and more words to learn on your own. It might seem like a waste of time or time-consuming, but I honestly love it. I revel in challenging myself to memorize new phrases and understand a wider range of the English language, and I believe it helps my writing.

Try it out for yourself and see which words you learn.

Who knows? You might need to use it in a novel one day.


12 thoughts on “Writers and Vocabulary

  1. The only problem with reading after you’ve been writing a while is that you know the tricks. It’s harder now for me to get into a book, because I spend a good amount of time analyzing the story structure. And now that I’m studying screenwriting, I do the same thing with movies and TV shows. Basically, writing is ruining mediocre fun for me. I have to find something REALLY good that captures my attention, so that I don’t notice the other stuff. Luckily, there are lots of amazing books out there.

    Do you find yourself having that problem?

    1. Honestly, I went through a phase like that in college, but I don’t struggle with it anymore. (Fun fact: I also studied screenwriting in college!) One thing that helped me get out of that phase was setting aside a time every day to read a book, whether it’s capturing your attention or not. For instance, I read every night after work for an hour (especially if I haven’t had time earlier that day). And more often than not, I find that the reason I wasn’t connecting or struggling was because I was still in work or writing mode, and it takes a little while to turn that off. By setting aside a time, it will become fun again. (And you can still analyze! I completely have moments where a plot device pulls me out, but I try to look at it as a learning opportunity. If you can see repeat cliches or what works/what doesn’t, you can apply that to your own work in the future.) I hope that helps!
      P.S. I might just write a blog post about this, but I’d love your permission to do so, since it was your question. I would be happy to credit you if I write it.

      1. Hey, if you want, I could do a guest post for you to make it a bit easier. Or we could colab on the post. Might be interesting for your readers to see two perspectives: one in college and one out. What do you think?

  2. This is why I like reading on my kindle, it gives me an instant definition and then stores the words for me. When I read a physical book after only reading kindle ones for a while I sometimes try and click on my book too!

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