Mark Steyn is a successful writer. He has best-selling books, columns in newspapers and even appears on TV talk shows
(though he’s much better at the written word than the spoken). Out of the blue, he offered this advice to writers last week in a political column he writes for the Orange County Register:
Don’t just write there, do something. Learn how to shingle a roof, or tap-dance, or raise sled dogs. Because if you don’t do anything, you wind up like *** and ****–men for whom words are props and codes and metaphors but no longer expressive of anything real.
I ***ed out the names so readers wouldn’t be distracted by politics (Steyn is a political writer). What’s important is not the politics, but the pith behind Steyn’s words.
Let me bring this closer to home: Somewhere around high school, students discover the beauty of the English language, the wealth of words available to describe events and feelings, each adding its own unique incite into what’s being discussed. These new writers get carried away with the rush of using good words, and often forget they must add to the story not distract from it, contribute to understanding not obfuscate.
I appreciate high school writers because they’re trying to write better, but I want to sit them down and ask them what they really mean. By the time they get graduate from college, they understand that the true beauty of the English language is there’s a right word for everything we-all want to say, thanks to those endless combinations of prefixes and suffixes and roots.
Understand what you’re writing about, and then find the word that communicates not just your meaning, but your feelings, senses, emotions. It’s a challenge, but that’s what makes writing fun.
For more on beautiful words:
- ‘Whiffling’ and Other Beautiful Words
- Beautiful Words
- Ten Favorite Geek Words
- Seven More Favorite Geek Words
- Ten Favorite Words–Part I
- Ten Favorite Words–Part II
- Eight Favorite Words–Part III