The Importance of Words

I have always despised the old saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ Perhaps this is because, even as a child, I knew this to be a complete falsehood. Words are some of the most important things we possess; how we communicate with each other, how we articulate ourselves and how we impact on others, often depend on words, though I acknowledge this isn’t always the case. Hugs, kisses, glances can say many things with no words at all. But, as a writer, words are particularly precious to me, it’s how I tell stories and process my emotions and experiences. But I know full well they can do as much harm as good.

From a writer’s perspective, sometimes I have to be the good guy, the bad buy, the person who no one understands. I have to get into the minds of characters and comprehend why they are behaving the way they are and adequately portray this in the story. This skill takes time, effort, experience and trust in myself. In particular with characters I don’t personally relate to, but are functional to the story, let’s say someone who is morally at odds with myself, the creator, I need to write them successful and still be able to come back to myself afterwards.

Being able to do this for characters I create is one thing; managing how this works in real life is an entirely different scenario. This part of my creativity does not prepare me for when words are turned against me, words I don’t understand the motivation for. Recently, this has bothered me particularly.

In a way I am writing this as a cautionary tale to remind us all to take heed- sometimes when we say or write something, we can’t take it back and it changes things forever. But, in fact I’m writing this to celebrate the kindness of others, and the words that keep us going, even unexpectedly.

It was my birthday earlier this month. My friends and family were very generous with their cards, presents and wishes, especially seeing as I was quite ill for my birthday and was off work. I opened a card from one of my sisters. In amongst other things, she included this quote:

“You have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to lead an ordinary life?”

This is a quote from Little Women, a film (the one featuring Winona Ryder) and a book we have always enjoyed. In less than two sentences, my sister turned around my opinion of myself; the constant guilt that follows me around when I don’t write, the heartache involved when I don’t write, the burden of questioning my identity and my future when I don’t write. She silenced these for me. An old friend of mine once told me “Of course you’re tortured, you’re an artist.” But, I hadn’t understood my recent predicament until I read those words. Not only are they extraordinary generous (hey, I may have no talent whatsoever, just enthusiasm!) but they brought me some inner peace, which has been missing for some time. This is the importance of words.

Thank you sister.



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