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Think you have every reference book you need to write the perfect story? Think again.
As an editor and writing coach, I find myself constantly on the search for new resources for my writers to use to hone their craft. And since my writers can’t spend all of their time writing—yes, even starving artists need a break—I like to recommend books they can read in their free time that can help them learn about the art of writing from someone’s voice other than my own.
With that, many of you know that I spend a lot of my time perusing Facebook groups for writers. (I love to answer people’s questions and learn about up-and-coming authors!) It was in one of these groups that I first heard about The Writer’s Lexicon, and after seeing it recommended by some of the more dedicated writers in these groups, I was excited to receive it to review. And let me tell you—I wasn’t disappointed.
Author Kathy Steinemann writes in her highly-acclaimed book that she often found herself “creating alternatives for overused words” and saving lists of these substitutes on her computer. These lists eventually became her latest work—but with The Writer’s Lexicon: Descriptions, Overused Words, and Taboos, Steinemann did more than just create a thesaurus.
At its roots, Steinemann has essentially published a narrative-style reference book for authors who find their writing to be too repetitive in a number of ways. Whether you’re reusing the same old descriptive words like “beautiful” and “loud,” or you need to replace cliché phrases like her “heart pounded” or he “shook his head,” Steinemann’s reference guide provides smart alternatives that actually fit your sentences—much unlike a thesaurus, which never seems to have quite the right word.
But then again, The Writer’s Lexicon isn’t just a reference book.
By using a narrative style, Steinemann speaks to her reader like a writing mentor would as they went through a manuscript. In a way, it almost feels personal. And by completing some or all of the numerous writing exercises, you can make it personal.
Now, I will admit that the exercises aren’t exactly life-changing. They mostly ask the reader to practice replacing the terms, phrases, or “taboos” (like overused ellipses or em-dashes) with the alternatives she provides, which, to an experienced writer, hardly seems to be worth the effort.
It is worth the effort, however, when you apply these tips from Steinemann to your own manuscript, instead of the provided text. And it is that practice that makes me want to recommend this guide to every aspiring author I know.
You see, when you buy The Writer’s Lexicon, it shouldn’t go straight to the shelf until you need to replace an overused phrase. You should read it. Front to back.
You’ll soon find that after reading each section—and Steinemann’s effortless commentary—you’ll notice the taboos that Steinemann mentions in your own work-in-progress. And that’s when it’s time to pick up the book again—as a reference guide to help you find alternatives to the repetition you’re seeing.
It is clear through this book that Steinemann knows what she’s talking about in terms of creating a fluid, natural narrative that sticks in the minds of readers—and with her help, you can too.
All in all, I was absolutely delighted to read The Writer’s Lexicon by Kathy Steinemann, and I would absolutely recommend it to writers who need a little extra boost to get their manuscript to print. I even plan on keeping the title in my back pocket to recommend to the writers I mentor whenever they’re stuck on a cliché. (And if that’s you, then it’s time to get crackin’!)
What are the biggest hurdles you’ve faced in your writing? Share with me in the comments!
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This article was published Nov. 16, 2017.