“Hey, Mom. In the new story I’m working on, is it okay if I use a cuss word?”
He asked the question casually, as though he were simply speaking to me about the weather. He didn’t look me in the eye, but rather squinted upward, focused on some invisible speck floating above his head.
“Why do you need to use a cuss word?” I asked.
“It just…feels like it will make the story more effective,” he said, the hint of a smile turning up the corners of his mouth. He’s in 6th grade now, and four letter words fly around him at school every single day. He finds them fascinating, and deeply tempting.
“Well, I’m going to encourage you to try hard not to use any cuss words in your new story.” He opened his mouth in protest, and I held up my hand, shushing him with my best mom-look.
“There are always other words you can use. Sometimes a four letter word is appropriate in writing, but you should try to first come up with other words, because if you can’t think of a way to communicate without using a cuss words, then you’re just not trying hard enough.”
And also, you’re my baby, and you kiss my cheek with that mouth, and you’re supposed to stay sweet and innocent forever and ever…and ever.
I left that last part out.
I’m headed to the middle school today to talk to the kids about the art of writing. It is the Great American Teach In, and many a professional will come in and give these kids a glimpse into their working lives.
Since my working life consists of caffeine, yoga pants, chocolate, and much time staring at a blank screen, I’m having to come up with something more creative. Because to stand up there and tell them that working as a career writer means rejection, emotional exertion, and overall feelings of inadequacy feels a bit like a downer.
Instead, we’re going to talk about the power of the written word, and how with that power comes great responsibility. So basically I’ll be Spiderman in there, only without the skin tight red suit, because my child would disown me.
My sister-in-law recently wrote the most beautiful post about writing. It’s been rolling around in my head since I read it, particularly the last couple of paragraphs.
Before parchment and paper, words meant to last were always cut in with some sort of incision. The Word was cut in with nail pierced incisions.
If our words are to make a difference today, then how should writers go about the craft? Sometimes, I throw my hands up in anguish and tell Him that I don’t have enough words to describe Him. When I try to get Him on paper, I wonder if I’m like a child that’s been locked inside a closet her whole life and yet she is asked to describe the sky. He is so much more. There aren’t enough words to contain Him.
But, if I can offer a piece of my story, then others might get a glimpse of who this beautiful God is. If I can make an incision into my own heart and let all of the joys and sorrows intermingle out into one grace swirled and bloody mess, then just maybe readers will get a taste of this Good-Good Father who loves deeply.
If we are going to write well, then we must cut into ourselves and bleed out.
We’re all, writers and non-writers alike, impacted by words, and this is perhaps the message I most long to convey to these young kids.
This generation is growing up in a world full of words. Their entire lives play out in pithy little soundbites, and they’re constantly bombarded with poorly thought through ideas.
[Tweet “It seems we’ve forgotten as a society the weight of the written word.”]
We fling words around like they don’t mean anything, constantly stringing together rants and epithets without any thought for the impact those combined letters leave on lives.
But words matter.
The entirety of our history lives on through writing. Everything we know about the early civilizations is because of storytelling and writing. If mankind hadn’t developed the written language, history would have died long ago, or it would be terribly warped.
Imagine if man had simply decided to preserve history by orally telling the generations behind. It would be like a bad game of telephone in which we all ended up believing that we descended from monkeys or something ridiculous like that.
The point is this: A great deal of power resides in the written word, and anyone who chooses to chase words and pen them, whether that be in a book, a blog post, an email, or a status update, should respect that power.
Because words matter.
Words ignite imagination. They initiate conversation, reveal new ideas, new ways of thinking, inventions beyond comprehension. Words were written in the beginning, and they tell us of the many great things this world has to offer.