The Value of Words

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At this point, I’ve likely written over half a million words, (and perhaps deleted just as many), with a vocabulary of less than 20,000 words. These numbers may be wildly miscalculated, but the numbers are as meaningless as the individual words. So much time and effort crafting phrases and rearranging sentences has taught me that words are merely building blocks, not precious jewels.

A new writer struggles with the feeling of concreteness after they’ve finished the stroke of their pen or pounded the punctuation into the keyboard. It’s difficult to unsee what you’ve written, to know that each word is temporary. Every word is a placeholder and may require replcament or sacrifice to reach your end goal.

Essentially this is the difference between writing and editing: Writing is the placing of words to convey a message. Editing is restructuring those words into the most efficient and meaningful expression of that message.

The right combination of words can create a melodic cadence, something pleasing to read both verbally and in the mind. The right description can paint a whole portrait for the reader, or rather provide them with the necessary colors to complete the portrait on their own. The length of a sentence can give a scene time to breath, or punch up the action.

What words you choose to remove, to keep, or to change is important, but their value is in how they are used. You should not only be willing to scrap words, paragraphs, and whole chapters, but be eager to do so. If they don’t serve the story, no matter how wonderful they may be, then they must go. If they are used poorly, then they deny the reader’s willingness to be captivated. They ruin the story with the storytelling.

As a writer, you are many things to a reader. You are a friend, an enemy, a psychologist, a mystic, a god. The reader is not only an active participant in the relationship, but they influence the meaning of the exchange. Readers will ignore the words they choose, add words to fit their own natural phrasings, and expand on the emotional seeds you’ve fed them, but the words you’ve written must provide the reader with a proper foundation.

Lead them to water. Then make sure the pool is deep enough for them to drink, but not drown.

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