Written words are merely shapes and scratches on a paper or black squiggles on a computer screen.
But they pack punch. They have power. Potential.
Words inspire, comfort, entertain, make the heart soar, cause laughter and tears. Words can change lives.
Words are a memoirist’s most important tools. We must learn to use them with excellence.
“Words—especially religious words, words that have to do with the depth of things—get tired and stale the way people do," writes Frederick Buechner. "Find new words or put old words together in combinations that make them heard as new, make you yourself new, and make you understand in new ways.” (From Now and Then; emphasis mine)
So, use crisp, bright, refreshing words—
but avoid ornamental words,
extravagant, snobbish words,
self-important words to impress readers,
elusive words that make your readers get up and find a dictionary.
A good thesaurus and dictionary can be a memoirist’s best friend. Computer programs usually have a thesaurus—a minimal one, but one that could help find a better word quickly.
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner,” writes Diane Setterfield. “Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
“I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions,” writes James Michener.
“…The right words in the right order might be worth a thousand pictures,” says Roy Peter Clark.
“Words whispered, shouted, and sung.
Words that move, dance,
and change in size and color.
Words that say,
‘Taste me, smell me, eat me, drink me….’
[T]he word has the power to create.…
When God says,
‘Let there be light’ (Genesis 1:30),
It is this creative power of the word
we need to reclaim.…
(Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey,
One of my favorite blog posts from the past is Gather “crackly”words for your memoir. Don’t miss it! (If you haven’t already started the practice of gathering “crackly” words, you’ll want to start right away.)
You’ll also enjoy reading another blog post from the past, The power and potential of words.
Take four minutes to read those two posts and then get out your manuscript and replace boring, tired words with words that have zing and melody and texture.
“Writing is the painting of the voice,” said Voltaire.