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It Seems To Me: The power of words

Posted: Friday, Jan 11th, 2013

Writing is a process of discovery. All too often we focus on the finished product without considering the work that went into creating it. As a result, when we express ourselves, we believe that the first words that tumble out of our mouths or onto our computer screens are the final expression of our thoughts.

Stephen R. Donaldson, author of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, once said, “Words on paper are to a writer what clay on a wheel is to a potter.” He went on to describe how a writer will work with words to shape an idea, sometimes removing the words that don’t fit, other times adding words to fill in and strengthen weak spots just as a potter will work with clay to shape a work of art. Like the potter, writers begin with an idea that is unclear, and as they seek the right words to express themselves, that idea begins to take shape and find expression.

As technology advances, so does our ability to share ideas, experiences, and emotions. It’s just too bad that our ability to think and express ourselves effectively has not kept up. The internet provides access to almost unlimited information -- unfortunately, most of that information is false. We often have to wade through a mire of unsubstantiated opinions and rumors to find a fact that has value.

Even worse, we are losing our ability to distinguish between truth and opinion, between emotional responses and carefully considered logic. We are losing our ability to express ourselves, and in doing so, our ability to think and reason is weakened.

Experienced writers discover the magic of revision. They begin with a rough draft, and then they search for the right words to express what they are trying to say. They look for weaknesses that need to be strengthened and discover the strong points of what they are attempting to say. As they do so, their thoughts become clearer – and often the end result is a surprise to the writer.

If we don’t go through this step in the writing process, we cheat ourselves out of the opportunity to gain a better understanding. When we search for the right word to say what we want, we develop a better understanding of the ideas we want to express.

Sometimes the process will lead us away from our original thought, and we often change our minds when we understand what it is we were trying to say.

When we are careless with our words, they begin to lose their power and clarity, and we begin to lose our ability to discover and express ourselves. In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell suggests that careless use of the language leads to careless thinking, and that careless thinking leads to careless use of the language. He goes on to suggest that all too often, words are used to avoid clear communication – to hide truth rather than express it.

The power of words comes from our ability to understand them and use them effectively. With the right words, we can create positive changes, we can heal ourselves and others, and we can draw closer to the truths we are seeking.

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