The Importance of a Word

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Back in the early days of writing, my mother took me to task about words.

“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!)


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--You DO know, don't you, that CS has a new call-out? An anthology on advice.

This post seems like it's swirling around a CS submission...

As you've said: Just sayin'.

Renee Roberson said...

Great post, Cathy. You are right. I don't think writing is the hard part. For me, finding the discipline to write is the struggle.

Unknown said...

Boy, did I need to read this, Cathy, Thank you. In the midst of a family tragedy this summer, though my heart grieved for those closest to the loss, I realized that my share of the grieving was not as great as theirs. They had the hard part. My burden was watching them and feeling unable to help. Even writing about the experience now seems like cheating. The loss was not mine, but theirs. Hard is relative, isn't it? Words are important.

Pat Wahler said...

Words are the paint and we are the brush. How we swirl them together makes all the difference.


Debra Mayhew said...

This gave me goosebumps. I am easily discouraged by all the negative news and the words that are used at times, and I feel as if my small voice is lost in all that. You have reminded me that my words count, too, and I have the power to make them the exactly what I want them to be.

Cathy C. Hall said...

And I needed to hear your words, too. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, y'all!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Maybe we should have the president read this post? LOL

I totally agree, Cathy! Selecting the correct word is what writing is all about.

Linda O'Connell said...

I agree with your mama. I often try to select a better/different word that will have more meaning or impact. Not always successful, but I ma now going to be hyper aware. thanks for this post.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

You chose a simple word that I'm betting all of us have used at one time or another to describe something not, as you pointed out, hard at all. Brilliant way to make your point.

You'll never eradicate the problem, though, because so many words are used in a subjective way depending on the person using them and, also, too many people don't really know the definition of the word they're using. For instance, the words "bigot" and "racist" are used interchangeably by most people, but they do not mean the same thing at all. Two different words with two different definitions, and yet they are used as if they are synonyms. Words ARE important, but it's tough when so many out there just don't know, or don't care, about the actual definitions. I guess all we can do is make sure our own little corner is as clean as we can make it.

Unknown said...

I really appreciate this post, Cathy. For a while now, I feel like I am on a one-woman campaign to eradicate sarcasm from our communication tools. I look forward to chatting with you in person one day, but I think it is important we say what we mean so people don't have to wonder or try to figure it out.

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