I had a bit of a nightmare last night; among other things, the totalitarian religious dictator altered all electronic dictionaries at once to remove 99% of the words in the English language so nobody could look them up to use them. The dearth of expression was vast and chilling; individual letters would stand in for dozens of words at once, according to the new revised dictionary, and anything the dictator did not approve of could not be spoken of because the words were gone. The few paper dictionaries we hoarded were the only source of words now other than the 26 one-letter words and a handful of government-approved terms.
I’ve been reading too much post-apocalyptic literature, I know. Incidentally, I tried to appeal by claiming he’d destroyed the field of computer programming because we didn’t have enough words to name our classes once you remove the reserved keywords, but the dictator was politely interested and then changed the subject.
I love words. Words are amazing. I think that’s part of what scares me about being a writer; using the right words in the right way can create a powerful effect, and using the wrong one can send an unintentionally negative message. I don’t write things like:
“The silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain thrilled me, filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before, so that now to still the beating of my heart I stood repeating ’tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door’ “
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”
“I wait. I compose myself. My self is a thing I must now compose, as one composes a speech. What I must present is a made thing, not something born.”
Nothing I write strikes me like those gems mined from beloved literature. But then, it wouldn’t, would it? Because I wrote it. It didn’t creep up on me and strike me from behind. So even if I had written a sentence or paragraph as striking and true as the ones quoted above, I wouldn’t feel the full effect. But I doubt I have. I would have to have a much deeper knowledge, I would have to not only understand and appreciate how the crafting of words is done but also understand how to do it myself.
I don’t write literature. I write books. They’re amusing books, hopefully. They serve their purpose: taking you away from your own life into a world different than your own. Hopefully they also make you think a little about something you never considered before – the best books always do. But I don’t try for greatness. If I felt I needed to polish my books until they could stand beside Austen and Poe I’d never publish anything.
But I really love words.
Postscript: After I published this, WordPress offered the following “inspirational” quote:
Easy reading is damn hard writing. — Nathaniel Hawthorne