SO MANY WORDS...SO LITTLE TIME
by George LeBlanc
For as long as I can remember I have loved words and writing. I can’t say when an infatuation became a full-blown love, but once it happened there was no looking back. Writing is my passion, and the vocabulary essential to it has come along for the ride. Writing and words have become an everyday part of my life.
I almost hesitate to say that every writer or would-be writer must develop a strong and diverse vocabulary. The understanding of that fact would seem most obvious. And yet, such does not seem obvious to many who put their hand to writing. Not only do some beginning writers have weak vocabularies, but they have a weak grasp of the rules of grammar in tandem with it. I do not pose myself as a master grammarian, and I am constantly studying to expand the boundaries of my vocabulary. But there is one thing that has become as clear as crystal: the use of words and their proper grammatical construction is absolutely essential to good writing.
Human beings are very complex creatures. Much of what we are is genetically imprinted within us at conception. Other of our behaviors and habits are often learned at a very early age. The way we express ourselves is very much a product of our environment. For example, if you were an American baby brought to England and raised by English parents, you would grow up speaking with an English accent. The fact that you were exposed to the pronunciation of words and phrases in England would obviously cause you to sound English. It would also depend on the area of England in which you were raised, the schools you attended, and even the economic status of your parents. It is the same way in America. The language we heard in school and at home ultimately affected our manner of expression. None of that, however, is permanently graven in stone. What was well learned can be enhanced, and what was poorly learned can be unlearned.
There is a writer’s axiom which teaches that writers should be writing every day. Writing should be like a job you go to whether you want to or not. The great difference between many writers and those who punch the clock is that the writer is very often not getting paid for his effort. Be that as it may, writing is work. It involves writing and the study of writing. The writer studies grammar, reads copiously, and of course, builds his or her vocabulary. Any writer who thinks these to be unnecessary has a fool as his protagonist. The writer may have a great personal library consisting of what he loves to read. That’s wonderful! Ah, but does that treasured archive contain numerous volumes on composition, grammar, and words, words, words?
So, when we write, what kind of words should we use? We should use those words which clearly communicate our message. We want to be clear and concise. At the same time, we do want our writing to exude life. The proper use of vocabulary can help in this regard. I don’t mean to suggest that we go digging for the dry bones of archaic words and phrases that have long since been buried from common usage. I, for one, have always loved the beautiful lilting strains of words and phrases from centuries past. However beautiful those melodic prose may be, if I attempt to incorporate them into my writing, the modern reader may find them difficult to relate to, no matter how beautiful. If you write poetry, using such a style may work if done without too much fanfare. In any case, we must guard against trying to get too fancy. The great temptation is to show off what we know and what we have learned. When we succumb to such a temptation, the reader will often see through our attempt at being scholarly. Simply use the best word for the job. I believe that a thesaurus is an indispensable tool for the writer. There is no longer any need to have one sitting on your desk unless that is your thing. There are numerous apps which bring the thesaurus right to your fingertips. So, as you are writing, pause for a moment and envision what image you wish to convey, or point you wish to communicate. Consider a word, and then review its synonyms. Find the one that brings forth the spirit of your message, and there you have it. And never be afraid to use a word for fear that your readers won’t know its meaning. From what I have noticed, there are many intelligent people out there. Never get the idea that you are the only one who knows how to write, or maintains an advanced vocabulary. In fact, your vocabulary may not be as advanced as you think. In any case, don’t worry about the other guy’s vocabulary or grammatical prowess; focus on your own studies.
Well, I believe I said what intended to say. It all boils down to the fact that writing and the numerous doohickeys that pertain to it should be filed under the heading of work. It may, indeed, be work that you love, but it is work nevertheless. So, writers, let’s get to work. We haven’t even begun to write.