Writing Exercise: Vocabulary Lists

Praying mantis on a sauce lidWe sometimes think of vocabulary exercises as the worst sort of busywork, something mainly imposed upon schoolchildren to teach them how to sit down and do something uninteresting for hours on end. However, writers can gain a lot from the simple task of defining and briefly using a list of words.

An increased understanding of vocabulary is never a bad thing, and going through a vocabulary list forces you to double-check your understanding of the English language. You’ll be surprised how much you learn about words you think you know – one word may have had more nuance than you realized, while another word might have another use that you didn’t know about. Still other words get learned once and then put in storage in the back of our minds. Going through a vocabulary list is a good way to find these (frequently excellent) words and put them to work in your writing.

In addition to a new perspective on the vocabulary of the English language, writers can gain a new perspective on their craft from this exercise. When you’re used to plotting, composing, and editing a long work, “use _____ in a sentence” can be a bit of a jarring task.┬áDoing this kind of thing over and over again, without the distractions of plot and character development, lets you focus on how you construct sentences. If you’re trying to make your style more elegant, going through a vocabulary list will help you think about the mechanical elements of style.

Even if you’re the one your friends come to when they need to know how to use a word, you can benefit from the simple practice of defining and using all the words on a vocabulary list. This process can help you understand the English language better, it can help you develop your style, and it can even help you come up with an idea when you’re looking for inspiration.