Recently I have been reading The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin and listening to Rabbit, Run by John Updike in the car. Though I have read both works before, something about the language, previously unnoticed, struck me as odd. Merwin’s language is simple, often monosyllabic, yet somehow renders emotions and scenes more accurately than drawn out descriptions. Updike breaks up the monotony of his story by using a broad, yet simple, vocabulary.
Then it hit me. There are so many great words that I have never used in my writing ever. After that I realized that even words that I have used possess so many more meanings, so many different shades.
So I came up with the following exercise to do two things. First, to increase my writing vocabulary. This is distinct from vocabulary in general as I, and surely you as well, know many more words than you use in your writing. Therefore, this exercise is aimed at bringing those words into your writing. Secondly, to use the same word in all of its myriad meanings. Look up any word in the dictionary and see how many different “meanings” the word has; more than one. This is what separates synonyms from each other. Though two words mean, more or less, the same thing, one is always just a little bit better suited. Having said all that, here is the exercise.
1) Pick 5 words (and try to do this daily, I’m trying as well) that you do not use or do not use often in your writing. They do not need to be big 10-cent words, just words you don’t use.
2) Look up the dictionary meanings of these words and write them down.
3) For each of the 5 words, come up with 5 sentences that use the word in a slightly different way than the other sentences.
The best way to pick words that I’ve found so far is to just circle words you recognize as rare as you are reading.
So, don’t wait! I’m about to start with these words: pallor, diffident, tense, sallow, oblivion.