On words & writing

I write like I paint. I see something, I describe it. Later when a word seems wrong I swap it out for another. The thesaurus becomes a good friend. It’s a field guide to words. Each word, like a familiar or an exotic bird, has its near relations. Follow the word and it will take you to its unique habitat of thoughts. Once you’re inside the habitat, well — there’s no telling what you’ll find. If you’re like me, you may get lost admiring the habitat’s flora and fauna and forget the original thing that was the goal of your search.

What was the question again?

Words are like colors in the artist’s palette, too. Some words are especially lovely just as some colors are keen and bright. When I find a lovely word, one whose meaning rolls out intriguing imagery or whose sounding beguiles, I just want to use it for its own marvelous sake alone. Art for art’s sake … words for words’ sake.

English is a big capacious language — in no small part because its speakers, like magpies, are always stealing. We fold the words of other languages into English, give them hearty welcome, and sometimes use them with such alacrity that they seem to be entirely our own possession. We forget that once upon a time we stole the words from someone else.

Plant words like seeds in a garden and see what sprouts. Give them the warm light of your admiration. Create a fertile soil with much reading and thinking. Even if the produce of your planting turns out to be weeds, know that those native plants are extraordinarily well adapted and hearty.

I began with a metaphor about birds. I didn’t forget. So, there’s a bird above. Exotic bird. Made of glass, “a hard, brittle substance, typically transparent or translucent.” Synonyms are few for “glass,” but it has lots of related adjectival companions: clear, transparent, crystalline, translucent, limpid, pellucid, unclouded.

The picture above is clouded rather than unclouded, but it has its glass-like elements. The water is a mirror that reflects, refracts, echoes the light falling on its moving surface. In life. Of course a picture doesn’t move. And neither do words, once you set them into place.

But thoughts move. Thoughts, restless, are constantly changing like weather. Thoughts and their words move so feel free to chase them. Never know where they’ll lead.