Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Vocabulary Blues

Over lunch today, I got a text message from bibliophile friend Mida, asking me to name a person whom I would describe as ‘magnanimous.’

A solid gold dunce cap materialized on my head. I’ve encountered the word many times before, and through context clues deduced it to imply some positive characteristic about a person, but I never went out of my way to find out what it exactly meant. Through Merriam-Webster’s website, I learned that it meant “showing or suggesting a lofty and courageous spirit.” First person that comes to mind would be: my mom.

My verbal vocabulary is far less than my writer-friends, and this lends an ounce of frustration to someone who aspires to be a competent writer. Throughout my career, the language of import has been that of the visual, the way images relate to each other, forming sentences that could be understood on an intuitive level.

I won’t say that I’m gravely wanting in writing skills. In fact, I’ve done a bit of writing alongside my design career, but prose writing is an entirely new arena that demands a different kind of sensibility. And a robust vocabulary reservoir is, in my opinion, a top requirement. I can’t just use the same words all the time.

When I read a piece of prose, I marvel at how writers are able to juggle words around and lay them out in myriad combinations to say one thing in different ways. In design, there’s not one solution to a challenge, and the same rings true for writing. But while I’m quite confident in my proficiency in the design tools, both abstract (symmetry, contrast, etc.) and concrete (line, shape, etc.), I can’t say the same when it comes to the writing tools.

There’s a helluva lot to learn.

A primary course of action would be to build my vocabulary. Dean tells me that I’ve got some of the basic composition skills down pat, and that there’s a definite voice in my writing work, but I believe that I can push myself further by expanding my vocabulary a little bit every so often. Hopefully, my determination to read more will help me here. Thankfully, I’ve been able to finish Jeff Noon’s Automated Alice after two centuries. I’ll try going for short stories again.

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