Stephen King once said, “Any word you have to hunt for in the thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
One of my worst habits in writing a first draft is repeating words and phrases. Sorry, Mr. King. I know I’m not alone in saying this, but I’ve done my share of word hunting. Mainly, I double-check word origins to make sure my 12th century knight or 19th century gambler can use the words I want him to say without violating any laws of time, space, and physics. Historical romance writers, especially those without a PhD in history, have to become familiar with etymology tools for finding correct words. I think every writer, however, should keep a vast array of words and idioms at his or her disposal to keep the writing fresh and avoid those horrible repeated words.
Some of my favorite phrase and word-finding tools are:
The Emotion Thesaurus (print)
British English A to Zed (print)
The Slang Dictionary (print)
Etymonline.com (web; word origins)
translate.Google.com (web; for translating English into most foreign languages and vice versa)
These are all good sites to use when the best word is the word that you just can’t seem to retrieve from the file cabinet in your head. Whatever you do, though, don’t select a word you’re unfamiliar with. If you’ve never heard/used the word before, chances are neither have your readers. Nobody likes a book that reads like the teacher from Peanuts, “Blah, blah, blah.” Be choosy. Use technical or archaic words very, very seldom and only when there is no better word to use. Save them for Scrabble. When in doubt, use the first word that comes to mind.