1. MatrixGravity
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    MatrixGravity Senior Member

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    I just wish to excel at writing.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MatrixGravity, Apr 13, 2011.

    Somebody on this forum told me a few weeks ago that

    "A huge vocabulary doesn't mean a thing, if you can't use the words to communicate something to others. If your goal is to become a writer, possessing a grand vocabulary won't make you a better writer."

    I personally think thats very good advice. What do you guys suggest I do then? Rather then trying to increase the size of my vocabulary, should I try and actually focus on sentence structure and trying to convey my thoughts? I don't really know. I feel like building a big vocabulary is essential is it not? Sometimes when I'm writing, I blank out and all the words seem nebulous to me and my mind feels warped and for a brief moment I forget what the hell English is. I know that's silly but sometimes that happens and I guess thats because I just don't write enough. I Mean, I'm always sending emails to people but I don't necessarily write STORIES or anything like that. I'm not really trying to be a writer. Maybe a journalist at most but either way, I really want to become better at writing PERIOD. I just admire so many people here who are able to convey there thoughts so effortlessly.. There are just so many words in the English language that I have trouble keeping up with all their meanings. I just wonder if there are any good online exercises I should take to try and increase my overall writing. I actually have a book in my room that I occasionally read but not as much as I should, it's called something like "Building a superior vocabulary". It boasts that by the end of the book, your vocab/writing level should be on par with a college students. I think I really should invest more time into this book rather then continuously searching for an answer thats clearly in front of me. What do you guys think?
     
  2. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    ^I think you should just practice. Really :) An extensive vocabulary is great but what good will it be if you can't convey your thoughts? The only way you can learn to do so is to just practice. Trust me. I used to jam up all the time because I couldn't think of the perfect word. But now, I've stopped being so critical and have instead practiced, practiced, practiced. Not only have I begun to write a bit better, but I've also started to used good words as well. :)
     
  3. MatrixGravity
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    MatrixGravity Senior Member

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    Thank you :). I'll give it a try!
     
  4. prisonchild
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    prisonchild Member

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    its not necessarily what words you use but how you use them... i mean putting emphasis on specific words, etc. and i think studying the roots of words helps. there have been numerous times where, when im either talking or writing i will use a word that i am not consciously using, i even have to look up the definiton after the fact to make sure i used it in the right context and i always, inevitably do. that comes from paying attention to EVERYTHING you read and knowing the roots of words. its the small things that add up, you dont necessarily have to be 'studying' to learn, you know what i mean?
     
  5. punk
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    punk Active Member

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    My English professor (who I believe is approaching the title of brilliant) said he had a teacher long ago who told him this: "You see that file cabinet? *points to a file cabinet in his office* All you need to do is fill it".

    After getting a 2.3 and a 2.2 on my first two papers in his class, he told me to just write my next paper many times, each time re-evaluating every thought and idea I want to get across to the audience. My thoughts and ideas in the first two were well thought out in my head, but on paper they looked a mess. For my third paper I took his advice and wrote it about four times, earning a 3.8.

    Unfortunately, I'm not disciplined enough to keep writing and "filling up the file cabinet"... or at least, I haven't been. I think I'll go work on that now.

    Yeah, just keep writing, but keep trying to be creative. Don't just fill the cabinet with a bunch of useless garbage many times over; try to be original and never let personal value escape from your writing. Creativity is the production of something both original and valuable, and when it is practiced frequently, it grows like a muscle.

    Hope this helps!
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    MatrixGravity, you seem to be obsessed with vocabulary. That's not a good thing, IMO. For one thing, you might start trying to deliberately use long, unfamiliar words when they're not the best words. It's not about choosing the biggest or most unusual words, it's about choosing the right words.

    Also, a writer should probably obsess about other things - character, theme, style, even plot - before obsessing about vocabulary.

    Do you read much? Most writers don't give much thought to building their vocabularies, because they grew decent vocabularies just by reading, reading and more reading. I highly recommend reading.
     
  7. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    ^Ditto. I agree. As Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The answer that's clearly in front of you is that you need to _write_. Vocabulary is not the issue.

    If that book has you doing writing, lots and lots of writing, hundreds of pages of writing, then it might be worthwhile. If it just teaches you a bunch of vocabulary words, then I think that right now it's a waste of time for you. You need to break through your reluctance to write; all this other stuff is just a distraction.

    ChickenFreak
     
  9. Finhorn
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    Finhorn Senior Member

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    To provide a slightly different opinion, you should read more and use a thesaurus. If you're hunting words while you write it's not because you don't know them, you just never use them. Reading good modern works along with the classics will reinforce the use of less common words. Also seeing well formed sentences helps reset my mind when I'm frazzled.

    I know when I'm hunting a word I get this tip of my tongue feeling and just can't get the word out. I don't have time to search the library for something I want so I grab a thesaurus. Word has one (SHIFT F7) though it's limited to the more common words. If you're looking for five dollar words I recommend "The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus."
     
  10. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    I think you have communicated very much about yourself in this one sentence, but perhaps not what you intended.

    Excellence is something not everybody can achieve. First point.

    Second point is, if you "wish" to achieve excellence in writing, then, as all others have said before me, write and persevere. You may take years of writing before you are really good, and so has almost everybody else who is or was really good. Write short stories, novels, reports, whatever, but write.

    Do you actually enjoy writing? Sometimes it doesn't sound like you do, or is this just me?
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Chicken Freak and Finhorn in that excelling to write takes dedication to reading and writing. Only use the thesaurus alongside a dictionary and an English usage book, otherwise like you saw with your other thread words can very easily be misused.

    Do you use an a-z Thesaurus or a Roget's Thesaurus? The Roget one takes some getting used to but I feel you are less likely to make mistakes with it, it organises words into type and theme instead of just listing words. The way the words are put together leaves less room for error than with an A-Z one.

    The most important thing to remember with writing is it is about communication. Even with nonfiction writing you can develop plot, characters, themes etc I don't really approach my fiction much differently to my academic essays or articles. You still need to place your work in context, provide evidence and test it in fiction. When you look at your work - is it understandable. Michael Hicks and David Starkey are my favourite historians - they are very, very intelligent well educated men however they can communicate academic subjects at all levels. To me being able to write a book most people can follow but can also deepen academic understanding is the greatest talent. The same with great journalism you tell the story of the world around you, hopefully informing but also communicating those ideas to others.
     
  12. Enerzeal
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    Enerzeal Member

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    I find flow is really important, the more jumped up the words you use, the more difficult it becomes to read and digest. You have probably been in the situation reading a book where you simply beasted through pages, almost zoning out to a degree, that is good flow. But sometimes you will be reading and either by complexity or bad writing you find your self having to stop, slow it down, and sometimes read back some to get an idea of just whats going on.

    "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

    A really nice quote I find helps me keep my sentences clean and my paragraphs in order and avoids them becoming to convoluted.

    The favourite suggestion on this site seems be at the end of the day, write, everytime you write something you will encounter issues, which you will overcome. The next time you write, chances are you already know and expect these pitfalls and can side step them easily - only to bump into a new issue.

    A book can tell you how to handle a sentence, how to perfect your descriptions, but at the end of the day its all down to practice. People call writing an art form for a reason.

    1, you love doing it.
    2, you have something inside you that gives you that edge.
    3, and only through self improving can we really become better at it.
     
  13. aimi_aiko
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    aimi_aiko Contributing Member

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    My advice to you is stick to your own level of knowledge. Don't try to extend your vocabulary just to sound smarter or become better. I've learned this the hard way. About a year or so ago, I wrote a story and decided to excessively extend my vocab and the teacher told me that it was unnecessary to use words that I was not familiar with (I used a dictionary and thesaurus) and after I heard the advice she had given me, I re-read my story and I realized that the writing didn't even sound like my own. It sounded like a plagiarized or professional piece of writing.

    The best thing to do is stick to your comfortable level of vocabulary and do things your way.
     
  14. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would advise you to write the first draft of your story quickly and however it comes to mind. Don't stop to think about what words to use.

    Once your draft is done, you can go back and edit. Fit in big words if you want or simplify descriptions.

    After that, read over your editted draft. If the average person can follow all the vocabularly without needing a dictionary, you're doing good.

    Just keep in mind, the more you write, the better you will get.
     
  15. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Plus the more you read, the more your vocabulary will improve the natural way. And im not talking about just books but articles, news papers, magazines, anything. I actually think a good vocabulary is a good tool for a writer, but that doesn't mean they need to be fancy words that no one uses or understand, the important thing is that you feel comfortable with them and can use them correctly. A good everyday-vocabulary can take you far. Otherwise I think its easy to sound repetitive when writing. But even though it sure is good its not the most important thing in writing.
     
  16. flanneryohello
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    flanneryohello Member

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    I know I've told you this before, but a giant vocabulary is not necessary or, at times, even helpful when it comes to being a good writer. As others have said, being a good writer and a good communicator is about choosing the best words for the job, not the biggest and most obscure ones.

    You mentioned working as a journalist. This is even more true when writing news copy! I worked on the student newspaper for a year in college and was stunned when my first article was edited to "dumb down" the language. I was told that the goal in journalism is to write using extremely simple, clear language, at no more than a fifth-grade reading level. Using super-big words is a super-big no-no.

    The only way to get good at writing is to write. Yes, that gets repeated ad nauseum, but it's true. I could read a book about how to perform open heart surgery every day for a year, but until I actually get into an operating room and do a real-world surgery, I'm not a surgeon. Until you actually start writing, you're not a writer--no matter how many vocabulary and writing how-to books you might read. You can't get better at something you never actually do.

    This may sound harsh, but not everyone is capable of excelling at writing. Just like not everyone is capable of excelling at sports, or playing the guitar, or theoretical physics. We are not all born with the same baseline level of talent and aptitude for all things. The trick is to find out what you excel at. I think that nearly everyone has some special talent or ability--unfortunately, sometimes the things we desire the most are the very things we don't have any real talent for. Just look at all the earnest rejects who try out for American Idol. Many of those people want to have a singing career more than anything, they love to sing, and they truly believe their dreams are within reach. Desire isn't the problem--lack of talent is.

    Now, I'm not saying you lack writing talent. Not at all. I really have no idea. But the only thing I ever hear from you is your desire to be a great writer, to have a fantastic vocabulary, to excel--I never actually hear any mention of a love or passion for writing. Why do you want to excel at writing? To command respect, for prestige? Or because you love it and want to excel at something you love?

    That's the first thing you need to figure out. My hunch is that if you actually had a real passion for writing, you'd be doing some writing. Yes, fear of failure can hold even the most passionate writer back, but I don't really get the sense that this is your problem. It's more like you've decided you want to be a great writer, but lack real interest in actually writing, so you're searching for the right book to read or strategy to follow rather than just practicing and gaining experience. If you want to write, then write. That's the only answer. You can't excel at something you don't do.
     
  17. PhaiRo
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    PhaiRo New Member

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    Read Read Read....words will come, you just have to READ. If you see a word or words you like, then look up the definition and take note of it...try using it in a sentence, then incorporate it into whatever you wish to write.

    Writing is tough on you if you let it be....Like someone said above, creativity is like a muscle, so keep lifting and you will get stronger.
     
  18. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think so. Words are just a means to an end. Unless you find your vocabulary constraining, I'd focus more on practising clarity and conciseness.

    Take such a simple thing as describing a screwdriver to someone who has never seen one before. It's much more about imagination, about picturing the look of a screwdriver and the situations you use it in, than it is about knowing the right words.

    If you're writing about science for a general audience, you need to find a way to describe complicated things using the reader's vocabulary, not your own.
     

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