Most professionals understand that animals don’t belong in workspaces. Even proper pets, like dogs or spiders, tend to be distracting and prevent work from getting done. In more extreme cases, cats can destroy countless hours of work just to amuse themselves.
However, many authors don’t realize that this rule also applies to their writing space. Sure, most know that they shouldn’t have obviously dangerous animals like cats around while they are working, but I’ve seen authors actually recommend having a dinosaur nearby while you are writing.
But a thesaurus is not an exception to this rule.
A cat can mess up a few hours’ work, but if you’re working on your computer, you should have autosave and backups, so there is only so much damage it can do. A thesaurus is far more insidious. You may not even know that it has destroyed your book until you’ve sent the manuscript to publishers.
You see, a thesaurus is a crafty creature. It tricks you into thinking that it’s expanding your vocabulary and enlivening your novel.
But it lies.
As an editor, I can see when a thesaurus has its claws in someone. I notice the needless variety in dialogue tags, the overly flowering language, and the way that many words don’t quite fit their sentences.
A thesaurus can tell you synonyms for a word you’re using too often, but it can’t tell you whether the new words are better. It doesn’t tell you the nuances of the word you’ve decided to put in. What’s more, a word you’ve gotten from a thesaurus isn’t your own language anymore, so you lose part of your voice.
If you notice that you’ve used the same word six times in one paragraph and you know a word that would be better, go for it. If you don’t know a better word, reword the sentence so you don’t need it at all. There are ways you can fix it. But don’t let a thesaurus into your writing space. Your readers will be able to tell.
So if you’re going to let dinosaurs hang out with you, go with safer ones, like velociraptors. At least they won’t screw up your story.