Friday, August 19, 2011

Happy Writers: The Power of Words

Claire Dawn blogs at Points of Claire-ification. She's a YA writer who's easily distracted by—oh, pretty butterfly!—um, where were we again? Oh yeah, Claire is currently busy compiling a list of 100 Books Every Writer Should Read. Stop by and find out how to submit your lists. (Also, I feel compelled to add that Claire lives in Japan, which makes her infinitely cooler.)

The Power of Words.

Once in Bible Study, my friends and I wondered why it is that we pray out loud. I mean, if God knows all the desires of your heart, he doesn't need for you to say them, does he?

The conclusion I reached? Humans need words!

When we are born, we have only thoughts.

"I'm hungry."
"If I bite this, it's hard."
"If I bite this, it's soft."

And then we learn to speak and our thoughts become more complex. It's a bit of a chicken and egg argument for me.

Would our thoughts be this complex if we didn't have words to express them?
Would we need words if we didn't have complex thoughts?

Whatever the arrangement, at the end of it all, we depend on words. Even when there's noone around, we solidify our thoughts with words, maybe out loud, maybe in our head. We often think in words. Only when a thought is completely sensory (the beauty of a painting, the nostalgia of the smell of homecooked tomato sauce) that we seem able to avoid words.

Isn't that ridiculous? We take the pure ideas of our thoughts and confine them into restrictive words within our own minds! And somehow this restriction makes us MORE expressive.

Words bring order to our thoughts.

And words can do other things for us.

They can help us reason. When we're trying to make important decisions, we make lists in our heads or on paper of pros and cons. The situation hasn't changed at the end of our list, but we can understand the best path more clearly.

They can comfort us. When something's wrong, it often helps to talk it out. At the end of the conversation, the sky is still falling, but we feel like we've got an umbrella now.

They can change us. When I started my blog, I started it to encompass everything I do and everything I'm interested in: Japan, music, fitness, foreign languages, travel, and writing. When I started out I was a girl who wrote. Thanks to the blog and the people I've met as a result, I am now a writer! (Thanks Marsha, Jon Paul, Natalie, Jen, Julia, Erin for inspiring me in so many ways!)

Words can give us an immense amount of power.

"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me!"

Really? What delusional soul told you that? Of course words can hurt!

But they can also heal. And they can convince people of an opinion, or make them doubt the ones they were raised with. They can create beautiful new worlds or expose the flaws in the current one. They can exalt or they can devastate.

Isn't cool that the tools of our trade are so amazing?

You are the wordsmith. You have the power. Word?


  1. I feel like the whole "Words Have Meaning!!! Really! They do!" thing is something going by the wayside these days. I've heard the whole sticks and stones things enough times to want to throw legos across the floor every time I hear it anew - because, amazingly, words mean things! I'm not physically strong, or even that deft with my hands, so I like having some power over some important form in my life.

    Also, always good to know that those of us who live in Japan are infinitely cool ;)

  2. What a coincidence. I've been thinking about the power of words all day. The antagonist in my new project is basically rhetoric man, and that can get pretty scary.

  3. How the words in my children's sequel will be powerful. :0)

  4. I'm a writer so of course I believe in the power of words. But it's interesting... I'm also the mother of a brilliant, but autistic four year old who has something of a language delay. I can safely say (based on observation) that the complexity of his thoughts is racing far, far ahead of his ability to express it linguistically. (I can see this via his artwork. Sometimes he is able to draw what he cannot say.)

    I've also had interesting conversations about this topic-- a friend of mine likes to interrogate people as to whether they 'visualize' when they read or not. Apparently a fair number of people don't think in words, but images. I suppose this is why they have so many different teaching techniques.

  5. As I was reading I had thoughts of Genesis....God spoke and the world was created. Isn't that cool? Words do have power. Also, made me think about what kind of words come out of my mouth: do they hurt? heal? What about words that I write? Hmmm, good thoughts today. Thanks!

  6. If I was to describe my relationship with words I’d probably opt for the French expression détente which although it translates as ‘relaxation’ what it really means is an uneasy peace. I wrote this poem a few years ago and it pretty much makes my point:


        Words are the enemy.
        Please believe me when I tell you this;
        I mean you no harm.

        They won't give up their meanings
        except after a fight
        and they'll betray you without a thought.

        But the worst of it is:
        they'll shoot you down with home truths
        the kind you can't run from.

        So don't run.
        Just watch what you say
        is what you meant to say.

         (for Deb)

        Tuesday, 26 November, 1996

  7. Words can build and create... and they can just as easily destroy.

    Very thoughtful post!

  8. So true! I saw this when I did a study abroad in Mexico. When I was really starting to think in Spanish then sometimes I would run into a word I didn't know and I literally couldn't think beyond it until I remembered either the Spanish or English version. That's when I really saw that we think in words instead of just in vague ideas or pictures the way I thought.

  9. So I know this isn't a post about prayer, but that's the part that caught my attentions... I wonder about praying with words sometimes because of that verse about how, when we can't communicate what we want to say, the Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. That makes me think that thoughts don't need words to exist, but that words do need thoughts to exist... sort of like the chicken/egg thing. I'm pretty sure the chicken came first because the egg needed a chicken/hen to sit on it and help it survive. :)

  10. Thanks for all the wonderful opinions, guys! I'm glad you found the post useful.

    Thank you, Natalie, for posting.

  11. =))
    "At the end of the conversation, the sky is still falling, but we feel like we've got an umbrella now."
    I feel the need to quote you.

  12. Words bring order to our thoughts.

    EXACTLY! love claire, and love the post!<3

  13. Number. :P

    Sorry, hehe, that's what I always say to my friend when he says "word." (It's his fault. Whenever I used to say "back" -- as in, I just got back to the keyboard -- he would say "front.")

    Great post! I love the chicken vs. egg comment about thoughts and words.

    I would say that ideas and stories are powerful, and words are how we best communicate them. :)

  14. Reminds me of The Help (a book I just finished). Putting down what one feels into words expresses what often cannot be expressed in other ways. I have found that true so often in my own life.