Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Writing Tools

We need the right tools for the right job. Anyone who has tried to tighten a screw into hard wood using only a screwdriver understands the difference that a drill can make. As writers, we need to consider which tools will help us the most with our craft and have them at the ready.

A dictionary may seem like a superfluous item to some, but this basic tool offers us the true meanings of words. To misuse a word can ruin an entire sentence. Also, as we come across a new word (I find most of my new words through reading), we can evaluate its meaning precisely, rather than rely on contextual clues.

When I first heard of using a thesaurus as a child in school, I was hoping I was about to access some previously unseen beast. I was disappointed to find out that it was another thick reference book that seemed just as boring as a dictionary. As a writer, however, I find the thesaurus to be invaluable. Now, if I’m in a rut of using the same word again and again, I can look up some synonyms through the use of my trusty thesaurus. Don’t skimp on obtaining a good thesaurus, even if you have a high vocabulary. You may find that your mind is locked around a certain word and refuses to think of a substitute. Unleash the thesaurus!

A final tool candidate that some may oppose is a stylebook. In our days of creative arts, the rules of grammar and punctuation seem like shackles at times, yet they are the rules that bind us to English rather than Your-glish. I realize that even among the grammatical guides, there are discrepancies, and depending on the edition, there are further discrepancies. Even with all the disparity, it’s wise to reference something as an absolute for the sake of consistency. My personal choice is the Chicago Manual of Style, but I wouldn’t defend it to my death; it’s just what I use.

Take inventory of your tools. There are others beyond these three, but if you don’t have access to all of these, shop around to see which versions might interest you. Head into a bookstore and try a few out on the spot. Once you’ve purchased your favorite reference books, keep them in a handy location, like next to your computer. Your spouse probably doesn’t want them in a pile in the corner of the bedroom.

This article is part of the Top Five Writing Improvement Articles:
1. Writing To Your Strengths Or Weaknesses – Should you write to your strengths or weaknesses? The answer varies depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
2. Writing Tools – As writers, we need to consider which tools will help us the most with our craft and have them at the ready.
3. The Callous Editor – To edit our own works well, we must divorce emotions from the process and make hard choices.
4. Writing Exercises – When thoughts seem locked up tight, try some exercises to get the sludge moving again.
5. The Jab – We need good openings to our stories, and this article shares some advice and an example from my own writing.

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