Wisdom of the Wordsmith
Updated: Jan 10
The wordsmith makes words come alive. Whether it's stirring tall grass along an ocean's edge, rousing a lake to fury or creating a state of serenity, the wordsmith knows how to make words perform because they've studied how they perform for the masters. Like a poet, they learn an economy and refinement of expression.
Word handlers know their audience too. They choose their words carefully, making sure they hit their mark, just as Abraham Lincoln did when he delivered his two-minute, two hundred fifty plus word Gettysburg Address.
The Magic of Words
The wordsmith is a lover of words, recognizing there is magic in them when strung together just right. There are heavy, juicy words, repelling words, clumsy and clammy words... words that crawl, walk, run and soar. Word handlers understand words can color the sky and invoke precious memories. And words can hurt, damage, and destroy, just as much as they can heal, inspire, and stimulate new ideas and new ways of thinking. The magic is in the stringing together of words for the skies they paint, the memories they awaken, the emotions they excite, the feelings they expose, and the pulses they quicken.
Words Command Any Effect
Words can plunge us into hell or lift us into heaven. Whether it's in the writing of the abstract or of things concrete, words can command any effect. Just listen to the following word magic from the hands of the masters.
Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton on describing what could be heaven: “We are born for a higher destiny than that of earth; there is a realm where the rainbow never fades, where the stars will be spread out before us like islands that slumber on the ocean, and where the beings that pass before us like shadows will stay in our presence forever.”
Max Ehrmann's Desiderata, on finding peace: "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence... Be at peace with God, whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
Can you feel the strength, the power in their words? Here's how three notable wordsmiths have described their pain, pleasure and purpose of writing.
Ernest Hemingway: "I have to write to be happy whether I get paid for it or not. But it is a hell of a disease to be born with. I like to do it. Which is even worse. That makes it from a disease into a vice. Then I want to do it better than anybody has ever done it which makes it into an obsession. An obsession is terrible. Hope you haven't gotten any. That's the only one I've got left."
Henry Miller: "I had to lay one brick on another, set millions of words to paper before writing one real, authentic word dragged up from my own guts. The facility of speech which I possessed was a handicap; I had all the vices of the educated man. I had to learn to think, feel, and see in a totally new fashion, in an uneducated way, in my own way, which is the hardest thing in the world.”
Stephen King: “Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
Great wordsmiths become great because of their mastery of words and their use which enables them to communicate to us precisely what they want to communicate. Not words as words, but the concepts, the feelings, the sentiments, and the sensations for which words stand.
A Call to Action
Some things all wordsmiths seem to agree upon: If our ambition is to produce powerful, skillful writing, then we need to expand our libraries, read and study good writing, be committed to writing as often as possible, and experience life with an appetite... or, in the stirring, vigorous words of Henry Miller, "... be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware." Yes, the magic must be in the words.