From Kate's Writer's Crate…
Since I started writing my 500 word posts, using exact words has become imperative. It always should have been, but with higher word counts the pressure to keep searching for exact words wasn't as intense.
In my rough drafts, I use the first words that come to my mind. As I rewrite and polish, I search my vocabulary for different words, better words, the exact words that make my thoughts clear to readers. If I run out of ideas, I turn to my thesaurus.
I use and love The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale. Compared to the thesaurus I used in school, it contains many more choices and leads that get me to the exact words I need/desire. It's one of those I-know-it-when-I-see-it situations. The exact word is not always the longest or most exotic; it's the right word for a particular sentence.
I didn't think I could be swayed from my allegiance to The Synonym Finder. However, while browsing for writing books recently, I discovered the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus which contains intriguing and advantageous differences.
I enjoyed the Introduction "In Search of the Exact Word" by Richard Goodman, a tribute to Flaubert for penning the phrase le mot juste, i.e., the exact word. According to Flaubert, "All talent for writing consists after all of nothing more than choosing words. It's precision that gives writing power."
This thesaurus is precise. It uses a variety of ways to clarify words for writers.
For fun, ten writers contribute mini-essays, each titled "Word Note", about words they like and dislike. David Auburn, Michael Dirda, David Lehman, Erin McKean, Stephin Merritt, Francine Prose, Zadie Smith, Jean Strouse, David Foster Wallace, and Simon Winchester share comments that are informative and opinionated.
Most unique about this thesaurus are the boxed explanations or special notes after some of the listings for:
Usage—Bryan Garner, a usage expert, lists the history of the word, where it was printed, critics of the word, and popular use.
Word Links—For example, after the listing of synonyms for flag, the word vexillary, meaning relating to flags, is boxed.
Choose the Right Word—Lists and defines a word's synonyms and then uses them in phrases for clarity.
Easily Confused Words—For example: After the synonyms and antonyms lists for eminent, a boxed list of eminent, imminent, and immanent are each defined clearly so readers are positive they are using the correct word.
Word Spectrums—For example, begin/end. In one shaded box are listed the range of synonyms for the word begin and then for the word end. Another example is optimistic/pessimistic.
Word Toolkit—Lists three synonyms across the top of the box and then, underneath each synonym, the words that pair with them. Reminders are also placed after some words to refer to toolkits printed elsewhere.
All of the extras in the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus are handy references, but The Synonym Finder offers more choices per word making both books goldmines—perfect for writers searching for le mot juste.