“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:
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
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
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)
Asperity: harshness of tone or manner
Succinctly: (especially of something written or spoken) briefly and clearly expressed
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.