“You need to have a look at this,” my mother said. She passed me the Reader’s Digest across my homework on the kitchen table open to the page “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power.”
“Choose one and use it this week, young lady.”
I was more interested in reading “Life in These United States” and the jokes at the bottom of the pages the same way I now flip through the New Yorker scanning the cartoons first.
Still “aberration,” “indelible,” and “mundane” held a satisfying attraction. I chose “mundane.” So, I told my gloomy friend Eleanor that it was good we weren’t selected to be pep girls for the seventh grade softball team after all because most of the ones who were chosen were “mundane” as far as I was concerned. “School itself is pretty mundane,” I added. I was on a roll. But just to cheer her up I told her that Miss Claussen, who we loved, wasn’t that impressed with pep rallies but she was very pleased with Eleanor and me as spellers. We might even get to the city-wide. And we did.
One of the most absorbing tasks in re-writing is to linger on a word and toy with the options. No word is ever the last word. When you go back over a draft even if you are tracking the larger issues of structure and story, note where you might want to return and in the margin or even right over the script, put down word choices in a wild circle. Be messy. It’s finger painting at this point anyway. And because you aren’t necessarily focusing on individual nouns or verbs just yet, you are probably more open to possibility at this early point.
Poets, good ones, can bedazzle with a word or a phrase just like songwriters. They have to because they don’t have the luxury of space and time as do writers of novels or short stories. Every word counts.
Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006, that would be 101 years! ) when talking about words in an interview with Bill Moyers said that poetry was hard “…because in our daily lives we enslave words, use them and abuse them until they are fit for only menial tasks and small errands.” He continues, “You have to remove the top of your head and plunge into the deep waters of the buried life in order to come up with words that are fresh and shining.” A good read about creativity is the Bill Moyers collection of conversations with poets titled THE LANGUAGE OF LIFE. These writers talk about their process. Here is where I’d like to state that I am not a poetry maven, but I love the words—the sounds and combinations. You don’t have to love poetry to like it.
You might want to begin to love Roget’s Thesaurus if you don’t already. I’m fond of the dictionary, but I’m mad for the thesaurus for it takes me off in a multitude of directions connected in ways with implications and innuendos I might not have suspected. Peter Roget, born in 1779, graduating from medical school at the age of nineteen in Edinburgh then making his way to England becoming an expert lecturer on medical subjects, establishing a charity clinic and in 1815 becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society serving as secretary for almost twenty years and, (my personal favorite) was a founder of the Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge, (oh yes, he also devised a slide rule and “spent much time trying to perfect a calculating machine”)—to think that he would have determined that there was a need for a catalog of words organized by their meanings and idiomatic implications, is thrilling. I hold his mind in my hand when I turn the pages. He and my mother at the kitchen table were not so far apart .
Words connect. Words express. Words describe and words move. No matter the century.