Words: the Building Blocks of Good Writing
Every writer has an arsenal of tools at his or her disposal that is indispensable to their work. Good writing is built on the most important of these tools – words.
Writing as Art
Learning to write is like learning any other art. There are certain steps you take to master your craft. Sculptors start on small pieces of stone or wood and begin to understand their medium and tools, painters learn the basics of perspective and atmosphere and brush strokes, musicians learn the notes and how they fit together.
Good writing is similar. Unless you learn the notes, you will not grow as a writer. Deconstruct your writing to its basic elements. Begin with the building blocks: words. Identifying the way words work is the first step to deeply knowing your craft.
Understand the Basic Tools of Good Writing
When you begin with the simple concepts, you fill in the gaps in your knowledge. As a writer, you likely have a wide vocabulary at your fingertips. But is it as extensive as it could be? Are you constantly experimenting? It is natural to rely on what we already know: we trust those choices because they have worked in the past.
Maybe it’s time to move beyond your comfort zone. Take risks and have fun with words. The best way to expand your vocabulary is to read. In addition to a number of other benefits, reading is the most natural way to expand your vocabulary. Don’t pick up a dictionary or thesaurus and expect to incorporate new words into your writing. Yes, it works, but it can sound stilted and unnatural. Studying how other writers use words can bring new life to your prose in a natural way.
Keep Your Writing Fresh
One of the best ways to keep your writing from getting stale is to actively think about the choices you make. It is too easy to fall into a rut and keep doing the same thing over and over. Try something new. When you find a word you like, think about it. Learn how to use it correctly. Then use it. I keep a list of words that I like, but don’t use often.
Keep in mind that words are not simply vocabulary – they affect the pace and tone of your writing. Choose each word carefully. Verbs are a great example: weak verbs stall your writing while strong ones propel it forward. And for heaven’s sake, get rid of adverbs!! If you must keep them, use them sparingly. In most cases, they are the bane of good writing.
So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads. Dr. Seuss
Finally, think carefully about the tone your word choices convey. If you use words with negative connotations, be aware that you are doing so. There are instances where such words are part of the story – that will be clear from the context. Don’t use one of these words unintentionally or you may offend your readers.
Strip your writing down to its basic elements to deeply understand your art. While we all know the value of practice, we also need to remember the importance of attention to detail.