What Every Writer Needs on Her Shelf

by Dec 14, 2017Writing Tips

Finding the right word may take more than just a click of a mouse…

I inherited a Roget’s Thesaurus from my late grandfather. It has one of those hard-covers made from cloth. My grandfather’s signature is on the front page with the date 10-3-36. A few pages in is a replication of ‘the facsimile of the first page of the MS. Classified catalogue of words completed by Dr. P. M. Roget in 1805, which was the germ of the Thesaurus.’ It shows the word Existence written in fountain pen with Dr. Roget’s enumerations of the meaning beneath.

I love this old book despite the fact that I hardly ever use it. Most of my writing takes place on my computer, so all I have to do is right click for synonyms. This function saves me heaps of time – no more paging through the index of the thesaurus, finding the corresponding meaning and number and then turning to the right page and wading through long lists of words.

There’s no doubt that being able to look up Serbian for ‘We have run out of pickled onions,’ if one happens to be writing a story about Serbian cocktail waitresses in under three minutes saves us writers a lot of time. But sometimes speed isn’t what a writer needs.

 

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In Steve Tolt’z new book Quicksand (2015), the character Aldo says, ‘… in our lifetimes we’ll see the actual end of patience.’ Not that I had a whole heap to begin with, but I’ve noticed the erosion of the smidgeon of patience I had for working things out manually, or researching a topic by actually going to a library or doing field work. When something isn’t instant (like internet speed), I get annoyed, it’s not working properly. Even opening the thesaurus these days feels like too
much of an effort. Sometimes I scramble around in my brain, but can’t quite grab the phrase I’m feeling for. Right click and Microsoft Office fails me with it’s shortlist of synonyms.

And there it is – the sign I’m waiting for to stop. Reach for the thesaurus. Pause into the word territory. Take my time. Sometimes I get lost in the pages sniffing out the perfect word, being drawn down new word paths and language lanes.

On those ‘can’t-write-a-thing’ days, a stroll through through its pages squares me back to my true north – to why I write – because I love words, their tiny tweaks and their fragile nuances. So I keep mine on my desk, a talisman to hold me to my joy, a patient friend who has the answers to all my writing questions if only I slow down enough to ask.

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1 Comment

  1. Kate Adams

    THANKS

    Reply

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