Throw Out Your Thesaurus!
How many times, when you're telling a story, do you stop dead to search for a bigger, better, or more impressive word than the one you were about to utter?
Unless you were planning losing your audience, probably not very often. So why do it when you're writing?
The best writing is the writing that flows naturally, without impediment or hesitation, from the mind of the writer. It's writing that appears to have come effortlessly (however much effort actually went into it behind the scenes). It's writing that sounds like its author--you--and that uses your rhythm, your sensibility, and your vocabulary.
The minute you pick up a thesaurus, you've muddied the waters. Into the clear running stream of your prose, you've introduced a foreign agent. Nothing sticks out in a piece of prose like the words you've plucked from those long lists of synonyms, each one more obscure than it's predecessor.
Thesaurus words are words you would never use on you own. The fact that you had to resort to the thesaurus just to find them proves it. They aren't words that come readily to your mind or rest comfortably in you working vocabulary. Suddenly, you start sounding like William F. Buckley--and unless you're William F. Buckley, that's not a good thing. (Even if you are, it's debatable.) It's as if you've swapped your customary Hawaiian shirts and shorts for a three-piece suit and a watch fob. If you think people won't notice, think again.
The voice you write in is the voice your reader hears and, ideally, grows to trust.
It's the voice the becomes accustomed to, the one that makes a sort of pact between the two of you. When you stop writing with your own words--the words you would or could summon up on your own--you break that pact and you propel the reader out of your world and straight into Mr. Rogers'.
It's no different than if you were writing fiction and you put into a character's mouth words the character could never have called up or spoken on his own. If you wrote about a farmhand and had him talking like a college professor, a a cultivated diplomat sounding like a stevedore, you'd be shaking your reader's belief not only in the character, but in the entire fictional world the character inhabits.
Whatever it is you want to say in your work, find a way to say it not in words you've borrowed for this special occasion but in words you already own. Those are the words your readers will find the most convincing.
Excerpt from Robert's Rules of Writing by: Robert Masello
Writer's Digest Books Copyright 2005