In a conversation I had this past weekend at #NY14SCBWI with the remarkable Jane Yolen (who has published over 350 books for children and teens!), I brought up how cool it was that the faculty at the Friday plot intensive (including her) were doing the same writing exercises as the attendees.
Jane's response, said with a wise smile?
"Any time an artist stops learning, they're dead."
One very cool tool that was mentioned at #NY14SCBWI by Elizabeth Wein is Google Book's Ngram Viewer.
It lets you explore word and phrase usage in print from 1800 through 2008. You can find out when a word started being used, when it peaked, and even compare its usage as a noun as opposed to its usage as a verb. (Like with the word "Cook.")
The results come back as a chart, and, as in the example above, it would help you figure out that if you're writing a historical piece before 1965, a character likely would refer to "kindergarten" rather than "child care."
There's a lot of different ways to use this tool, and it's worth checking out Advanced Usage.
Thanks Elizabeth! And like Jane said, let's all keep learning!
Illustrate and Write On,