How Paper and Glue Books Might Lead to Your Next Best Idea

I admit that more often than not, I used the computer to answer my questions. I have a nifty widget that pops up and becomes an instant thesaurus and dictionary. But there are some times that I need to yank that old paper and glue tome off its bookshelf and turn some pages.

A few weeks ago I had an experience that reminded me what writing was like before the Internet and widgets and apps and all those time saving devices. I was doing some world building and needed some specific words to describe people and magic. I wanted the words to be special and my computer widget came up dry.

So I pushed the keyboard back, clunked down the books and started researching. My most favorite book ever, and the one that I turn to when I need some great words: Roget’s International Thesaurus Fourth Edition.

Now, I’ve searched and searched for a digital version of this. I did find a website where you can page through a virtual copy of the book (which takes much longer than the actual book). But no app or other copy of Roget’s Thesaurus has what the fourth addition has.

Most Roget’s Thesauruses are organized like your typical dictionary—alphabetical. Instead of definitions, like the dictionary, you get a string of basic synonyms and antonyms. Useful, but easily replaced by all those fancy apps.

The Roget’s Fourth Edition words differently. It’s organized by subject. This means that to look something up, you have to search twice. Let’s say you want another work for walk. First I look walk up in the index at the back (which is alphabetical). This gives me a series of options for nouns (amble, arena, circuit, gait, path, race, region, route, slowness, sphere of work, vocation) and verb (ambulate, go slow).

Already the beauty of this book reveals itself. It shoots your brain in different directions. What the heck is “sphere of work”? (I looked it up. Walk related to a cop’s beat.)

Next, you look up a number related to the shade of meaning you want. Let’s shoot for race (796.12). This comes under the heading “Contention.” The subsection 12 deals with contests of speed.

But since this Thesaurus is arranged by topic, you can look at the sections around. Section 797 is “Warfare.” The previous section is “Disaccord.” All these lead to new ideas, which is pretty much what this creativity thing is all about.

And these are ideas without distractions. You take a saunter through the Internet to look up words and before you know it, you’re searching for news reports, or checking your Twitter feed, or anything but what you intended to do.

Paper and glue books don’t have an on/off switch. You can’t go off track. So if I’m saying anything here, it’s try to unplug once in a while. Pick up a real thesaurus or dictionary and actually search for something. The time it takes to flip those pages might actually trigger an idea you didn’t even know you wanted.

Tim Kane