Aw, They’re Just Words

How many times have I heard someone say “they’re only words?”

Too many times to recall exactly.

I hear these “words” about words often, but mostly at work where I collaborate with a bunch of intelligent engineers and scientists.¬†They love to hash through concepts for a white paper or a plan so they can get all their ideas straight in their heads (or so they think). When I start trying to write things down, they often don’t seem very concerned with my desired literary precision. “Aw, they’re just words!” they say.

Just words?

I explain to them that, often, words are all we have. I tell them that when a reader is sitting down with their little white paper sometime in the future, they will not have the benefit of asking the engineer who wrote the paper what he or she means by a given sentence. More than likely, and even worse, the reader probably wouldn’t ask the engineer about the meaning of a sentence even if he or she were there to ask in the first place! The typical reader just reads and interprets and internalizes based upon the words on the page and upon his or her personal experience with and understanding of those words. It’s bad enough, I further explain, even if one were to choose the most perfect words choosable, there’s still a decent chance that the reader won’t perfectly “get it.” How much worse are your odds if your words are lazily thrown on the paper or are possibly too vague? Answer: Much worse.


Look at our world today. Sure, at the heart of many things and the issues are actual actions behind words, but from where I sit, most of the confusion that causes many of today’s problems comes from words themselves. Well, OK, it’s not the fault of the words themselves, but rather the brains inside of the heads which are reading said words. Religions base themselves on words written by “somebody” thousands of years ago. These words, in some cases, are used to condemn things today like gay marriage. America’s founding fathers used words to write the U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights. Some of these words are now leveraged to say it’s ok for individual citizens to own (many) assault rifles. I personally think that James Madison (unless he was omniscient or a science fiction writer) could not have possibly imagined the concept of a modern day assault rifle. But I digress.

To be clear–my point is NOT about whether The Bible or the 2nd Amendment are being interpreted correctly or not as to: 1) the true intentions of their writers; and 2) the validity of their words in today’s modern world. My point is only that it is the “words” chosen by their writers so long ago that are the vehicles for today’s debates and for today’s confusion.

So, why blog about this? Because, when writing fiction, I believe that the correct words can go a long way to conveying that which an author is trying to impart to his or her readers.

As such, I spend the majority of my time re-writing my stories. For me, at least, that’s where I get to sculpt and hone. I think many writers are afraid of the rewrite, as if it is some arduous chore rather than the most lucrative creative opportunity they have. The original dumping of words onto the screen is a lot of fun, but modeling the entirety of the story afterwards is the thing. Just my opinion, of course.

How bout everyone out there? Do you dread or look forward to the rewrite? More on this in a different post.

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