I have a deep and abiding love for words.
Many years ago I read somewhere that words are like legal contracts. Each word you utter is a promise to portray exactly what you mean with no scope for ambiguity — intentional or otherwise.
Each word has a specific meaning in a given context. It is possible to say exactly what you mean in most situations, except when your emotions are too deep to be contained in the words designated to hold them.
When I use words to define what I am feeling, my impressions crystallize within me. The nebulous takes shape; the vague becomes solid; the fluid becomes concrete. Once the feeling is given garb, I may examine it and test it for validity and authenticity.
She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.
~ Michael Ondaatje
I know myself better when I give words to the movement of worlds within me. I find the process fascinating. At times when words fall short and my inner world flows prodigiously over, inundating and drenching everything in its path, I learn the limitlessness of my own thoughts. More than the structure, it is this boundlessness that I find captivating.
My love for words and language make them my companions. It is natural to want to play with them when the fancy takes me. Not only does my love for words help me interpret myself, but it also allows me to create stunning palaces and castles in the empty spaces of my mind. That is another reason why I love to write. I love to show those luxurious mansions to others and take delight in the sharing.
You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.
~ Annie Proulx
A writer needs to know the meanings of words as a carpenter knows the proper use of his hammer. They are the tools of her craft, she must know exactly how to use them. The meanings are not learned by memorizing the dictionary. They are learned by reading books.
The context in which a word is used explains the meaning to you better than a dictionary definition would. The more often you read the word being used — by different authors, in diverse contexts — the better you will understand it. Also, reading them often will make them a part of your own working vocabulary too!
The English language is said to have millions of words. Obviously, many words have been lost after they fell into disuse. People have an average working vocabulary of three to ten thousand words. Those who read have nearly five times that. Those who read a lot, have ten times the average vocabulary.
More than just knowing the words, avid readers understand words much better in all their nuances. This enables them to use words more confidently than they would otherwise be able to. If you propose to make you living by your pen — or to win your share of accolades — it makes sense to understand the tools of your trade as well as you can.
Words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.
~ Patrick Rothfuss
Knowing your tools well is a sure way to earn the respect of your peers and the admiration of those who use your services. In the case of a writer, your users are your readers. Just as a carpenter learns to use his tools most effectively so his own efficacy is boosted, so must a wordsmith acquire expertise around words. You would be horrified if you saw a carpenter use his bare hands to hammer in a nail or to use a chisel to do it when a hammer was his for the asking.
It doesn’t matter which language you use to express yourself. It could be your mother tongue — or it could be a second/ third language like English. The principle is the same. The advisability of gaining mastery over your tools is as relevant.
Refining your language use is a gradual process. Naturally, it is not recommended that you become an expert and only then begin your writing journey. That would be counterproductive. In the first place, there is no fixed benchmark that pronounces you an expert the moment you step beyond that line. In the second, it might take forever. You can’t keep sitting and twiddling your thumbs meanwhile! You must start with what you have and remain focused on sharpening yourself simultaneously.
Knowing your words well is not the same as acquiring a complicated vocabulary, studded with words that are difficult to spell, pronounce and decipher. There are a whole bunch of simple words which many of us use in the wrong context. For example:
- Consent: It doesn’t mean to give one’s enthusiastic permission. It means to passively or reluctantly agree, even when you would prefer not to.
- Compelled: It doesn’t mean to voluntarily do something, usually out of a moral or internal impulse. It means to be forced, obligated or pressured into doing something.
- Disinterested: It doesn’t mean Uninterested, as in bored. It means Being impartial towards, or not involved in, some event.
These words are not complicated. These are everyday words that have just been used incorrectly. It is possible that even with incorrect usage you might be able to put your point across because your reader has picked up other cues from your writing. But what if your reader is confused because your words say one thing while your context says another? Do you really want to take the risk?
How important is it for you to have a command over your language?