I get the feeling from hearing certain comments at writing conferences, and seeing some writers’ Twitter posts, that there might be a kind of syndrome associated with the state of being a writer. I call it Thesaurus Shame.
Heavy Is the Head…
When words are the tools of your trade, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that we as writers must know all words. What’s more, lurking at the bloated edges of that idea is that writers must be able to access the perfect word off of the tops of our heads at any given moment. What a heavy crown to wear!
While the germ of every writer’s ego is the desire to write something profound and remarkable, let’s face the fact that most of us just want to make a living doing what we love, which is writing stories. Personally, the thought of having to prove my own worth to myself through demonstrating boundless knowledge is stressful—and unrealistic.
In reality, I know I’m no Hemingway. And that is just fine because, although being a writer is a huge part of my identity, I am other things besides being a writer. By the way, do you really think Hemingway would have eschewed Google? Just embrace tech. For all its flaws, it’s a gift of knowledge.
The Danger of Lost Momentum
What’s important to me as a writer is maintaining momentum. I would lose precious momentum if I didn’t allow myself to write forward in my story just because I had to shine brightly. Everyone has their own process for writing—mine is to slam through a first draft to just get the ideas down.
In my first draft where my ideas are born, I don’t care how sentences sound, if I use the right words, or if certain scenes are really just bones. No one else sees my first draft. It’s the place where I throw down a raw lump of clay that I’ll craft something out of later.
During my initial process, I’ll use a simple word and highlight it in yellow. That’s my cue to go back and improve. But, maybe I’m tired. Maybe I’m emotionally drained, or over-scheduled. The little grey cells are not doing their thing, as Poirot might say.
In cases like these, do what you want, but I’m using a thesaurus and I don’t care who knows it. My favorite is OneLook.com, because you can type in a phrase or idea, not just a synonym. I love it.
And look, I don’t want to take away from the brilliant minds who have trained and honed their vocabularies to craft flawless sentences. You are the heroes. You never succumb to Thesaurus Shame.
Me? I just tell stories and will take all the help I can get!