“The words you choose are so important, Cathy,” she said. And then she went on and on about the power of a single word and how I should be careful about what I write, what I say and what I mean to say. I laughed at some point because she was so intense about the subject. Okay, Mom, enough! Who’s the writer here, anyway? I listened, but honestly, I didn’t pay attention.
Now, after ten or more years and lots more of life, I get what Mom was trying to impress upon me. Words matter.
And not just in the big issues like political or societal or economic discussions. But I think—I hope—most of us understand the importance of choosing our words carefully in those discussions. It’s the everyday use of words that I’m talking about, the things we say or write in a tweet, a status update, or maybe a blog post.
A writer friend updated her status recently with, “Writing is hard.” I’ve probably said that same thing a hundred times. I’ll bet you have, too. We don’t mean anything offensive with the expression, but still. Reading those words then, I winced.
Here are a few synonyms for hard (used as an adjective, as in the above statement.): arduous, wearying, back-breaking, grueling, exhausting. Does that sound like writing? Sure, we might consider rewriting a manuscript for the seventh time grueling, but it’s not. It’s annoying, and plenty frustrating, but it’s not really grueling or back-breaking or bone-wearying.
But single-parenting? That’s arduous work. Losing a loved one? Definitely daily, sometimes hourly bone-wearying stuff. Enduring relentless cyber-bullying? That’s hard.
There are so many life experiences that are hard. And perhaps writing about those kinds of experiences can be emotionally challenging. Even hard. But for the most part, trying to figure out a plot, track down a source, or even the umpteen rejections we might get—all facets of the writing experience—aren’t so hard.
Hard. It’s just one example of one word that we throw around casually; there are lots of other words out there, words we need to think about and how we’ll use them.
So I guess I owe Mom a late apology. She understood all those years ago about words and I didn’t take her seriously. She wanted me to think about each and every word I put out there—professionally and personally—and I just shook my head that day, because really, who has time to think about each and every word?
But maybe it's about time we did.
Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer. Her latest release is Great Leaders of the World, from Darakwon in South Korea. Read all about it here!)