Fri 21 Oct 2011
As writers, we often find ourselves stuck on a word, a deeper meaning for our stories, or names for our characters. Using books as fundamental tools rather than depending on technology can ease frustration when finding what we’re looking for. The internet often contains inaccuracies or too many choices, whereas books may be considered more reliable sources. Finding the right books to use as tools is critical in helping your skills as a writer. It is also important to do small exercises to hone those skills.
Here are five must-have books (and exercises) to assist with writing:
1. Thesaurus – Thesauruses force us to learn new words, which increase our vocabulary – a very critical part of being a writer. I’ve been carrying one around since high school and have found that the thesaurus is a wonderful tool when I find myself repeating the same word and want to find one with the same or opposite definition.
For example, I was writing a story and noticed that I kept using the word “said” over and over. I didn’t see the word “said” in my thesaurus until I had a “duh!” moment and realized that I had to look up the infinitive - “say”. The thesaurus gave me more than a handful of other words from which to choose.
Exercise: Choose one word you find yourself using often and research synonyms to use instead.
2. Symbolism book – It is important at times to get to the deeper meaning of an object, color, or place for our stories and symbolism books can often provide us with a new understanding or point of view. For example, if I wanted a particular kind of bird in my story, the symbolism of that bird is very crucial to that particular moment.
One of the best books I have found on this topic is The Encyclopedia of Symbolism by Kevin Todeschi. It’s simple to use and contains an array of meanings from different religions and cultures.
Exercise: Choose an animal and research its symbolism to use in a story.
3. A Baby Name Book – Whether writing fiction or creative nonfiction, many writers have difficulty coming up with new names for their characters. Baby name books are the perfect resolution, as they provide origins and meaning behind names. Name meaning can either fit the character or create irony. For example, one of my characters carries an innocence about her, so I chose the name Kayla, which is a form of Katherine, meaning “pure.”
Exercise: Randomly select a page and choose a name for a character. Consider the name meaning, and write a short paragraph describing the character.
4. Dictionary – This is probably an obvious book on the list, but believe it or not, a lot of people don’t use dictionaries anymore. Before I attended college, I worked a somewhat redundant office job. I made a point of choosing a random word out of the dictionary each week and using it in a sentence. It increased my vocabulary and my boss was impressed with my initiative. Dictionaries are an extremely essential tool for writers. Not only will they help with spelling, but if the thesaurus you’re using recommends an unfamiliar word, you might want to look up its definition.
Exercise: Once a week, choose a random word from the dictionary and use it in your writing.
5. A Journal – Every writer needs a journal! If you are experiencing writer’s block or simply have too many things on your mind to focus on the writing at hand, a journal can be your best friend. It will listen to you without judgment or interruption, and it can provide insight to your innermost thoughts. Even better, there have been studies that show journaling relieves stress.
Exercise: When you wake up or before you go to bed, write at least one to three pages in your journal – every day!
If you’re a writer and you’re not already taking advantage of these books or exercises, start now. They are an inexpensive way to help improve your writing skills. The exercises provided are a simple way of improving some of the techniques of your talent. You can change and increase them to your own liking. Happy writing!