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Lessons From On Writing: Vocabulary

As you may or may not know from our Instagram page, I recently read On Writing by Stephen King. No, I have not read any of his other books, but I plan on reading at least one of his other works. And while I'm not going to tell you everything about this wonderful book, I have still come across some things that I think are worth sharing.

In On Writing, King goes through what has created himself as a writer and some important things people should know about writing. One of the lessons in his book is on vocabulary. While this is one of the smaller parts of the book and some people might not even remember reading this, I really was able to connect with it and believe that it is something that all people should keep in mind (especially kids in school, oh my goodness).

What King said more or less about the subject of vocabulary was that you had to be careful with it and while it is certainly a helpful tool to have, you shouldn't stress over it. (Something which I am guilty about.) Sure, at least according to him, it is still wonderful to try to expand your vocabulary, but you don't want to go searching for a more complicated word just to make your writing seem better.

No, he says. Don't do that.

And, sure, I'm guessing that you've probably heard this a billion times or so from your teachers throughout the years. But did you listen to them? Well, that's another story for some, isn't it? If you were looking for a sign to stop doing this - searching a dictionary or the internet for fifteen valuable minutes just for a word - here it is. So maybe you weren't going to listen to your fifth grade writing teacher, but at least listen to a bestselling author, okay?

King really brings up a good point that vocabulary, in a sense, isn't everything. Some great authors have actually used a rather simple collection of words in their writing. And, yes: while you do find authors with an unimaginable variety of words (Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch...? Don't get me started on that one!), there are these writers who can use simple words to make a more complex picture.

These aren't examples that King used in his book, but I just want you to think of any amazing picture book you've read (titles such as Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes or What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada come to mind for me). Picture books are simple and easy reads; we can all agree on that. But some have great ideas and concepts behind them, yet the words used are basic vocabulary that can be easily understood by a child.

Or what about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon? Such a beautiful book, but simple vocabulary.

You see, you don't need complex words to make your writing better. After all, writing is about the ideas, which brings us to King's other remark on vocabulary:

Use the first word that comes to mind.

Sure: this has some exceptions, but I see where Stephen King's coming from when he says that the first word that pops up in your mind is probably the best word for this situation. It's what you mind thought of, and what word could better match what you're trying to say? (Like I said, there are some exceptions.)

I don't know about you, but I feel like these are two very important things to take from King's book, On Writing. If you want more tips on writing and information on what shaped King into the writer that he is, then I suggest you read On Writing for yourself. His sarcastic and just plain old funny humour definitely keeps the book going at a good, casual pace. An enjoyable read.


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