Clear space on your desk and set an open dictionary there. Your writing life will improve immediately. At my writing desk in the the basement a dictionary lies open in front of me. I write by hand or type on a laptop or typewriter with that dictionary open to whatever word I last consulted. The dictionary, open at your desk, unavoidable, will change your writing life for the better.
Maybe you worry that page turning and searching will take time away from writing. Wouldn't it be better to just Google definitions?
Yes, using the dictionary takes time away from tapping keys and pushing a pen, but that’s good. Taking time for Facebook is bad. Looking through the dictionary has me thinking of words, finding new words, and returns me to words I've forgotten. I looked up sanguine to be sure that it described how I felt about the neighbor’s tree falling through our fence into the yard, and the definition helped shape the next few hundred words I wrote.
Browsing a record shop, I inefficiently flip through albums A to Z. Brushes with other records suggest new music and lead me into serendipity. Looking for one album, I find so many more.
Asking my phone to “define sanguine” brings up the definition and history in 0.40 seconds but only for that one word. In my dictionary sanguine is the last word on page 1041 which begins with sand, continues through sandalwood, sandhi, sandjack, sangfroid, sanguinaria, before ending at sanguine. Looking for page 1041, I passed saleroom, salt, and Samaritan and thought about the Good Samaritan, remembered a Slate.com article about salt in food, and wondered what the hell a saleroom is. None of that relates to how I felt about the fallen tree and crushed fence but had me feeling writerly. All because of the nearness of the dictionary.
I put a dot next to sanguine and every other word I look up curious when I'll return to that page. The dots amuse me when I find them again. I wonder what I was thinking and writing when I looked up that word. Occasionally, I look up a word I've previously dotted, the meaning having escaped me. I reread, add a second dot, and leave the dictionary open to that page as I go back to writing.
Leaving it open encourages my habit of using the dictionary. A closed dictionary likely remains closed. An open dictionary is a writer's friend and aid. It is also a little bit magical.
Using the dictionary is slow. Like handwriting, it makes words physical, slower than digital impulses. It has me taking time with the words.
Which dictionary you use doesn’t matter much so long as it lies open near your desk. Mom got me this Webster’s for college, so that’s what I use. Maybe your Mom gave it to you or some professor required one for class. If you lack a dictionary, they can be had cheap at a used book store, garage sale, or library book sale. Ask friends who don't write if you can have theirs.
Get a dictionary. Place it open on your writing desk where you will be unable to avoid it. Look up sanguine or maybe saleroom. Read the definitions. Put a dot next to it. Survey the words near it. And enjoy your improved writing life.