Friday, May 27, 2011

The Write Way: Wordsense

(For the introduction, click here. For your reading pleasure, feel free to check out Wisdom and Wit and Weird and Wyrd.)

Well, here comes the end of it all. In my last two rantings on the subject, I expounded on the multitudinous virtues of knowing what to say, knowing how to say it well, being just off-the-wall enough to be interesting, and having boatloads of dumb luck. They are all, in some way, necessary--some more so than others, depending on the task.

On the whole, though, any one of those traits could appear in people who don't write. Wise non-writers could be teachers or pastors; witty non-writers can be found wherever there's opportunity for sarcasm. Weird people can be eccentrics or one's next door neighbor (depending on the day), and anyone with enough wyrd will succeed regardless of whether they can write a compound sentence without losing track of it.

This final quality, however, is unique to writers. If a person has it, they can write. Without it, no real writing will ever be done. I speak of wordsense.

So What Is It?
Simply put, wordsense is simply knowing how to communicate best. A person with great wordsense will never, ever, ever settle for an "almost-right" word; everything they say is deliberate and careful and precisely correct.

Sometimes, their minds glitch for a moment, losing track of where their thoughts were headed and losing one essential word, and this spells disaster for them. They cannot interact without that word.

They will stand or pace, shut down or develop mania, but they will not continue with the conversation until they've found exactly the word they were looking for. If they can be pulled from their word search long enough, they'll be brought back to reality, but they'll burst out a few minutes later with, "THAT'S THE WORD!" In the worst cases, they won't find it for days, or even weeks. They might lose sleep over it. Some of them simply go nuts.

Why Does It Matter in Writing?
This is so obvious it almost doesn't bear mentioning, and I know that you, dear reader, have already figured this particular puzzle out. Nevertheless, I will endeavor to explain this one:




The Ideal
This one is equally obvious. A writer with ideal wordsense will never struggle for terms. He always knows what he's going to say and how he's going to say it (as such, this trait ties in quite neatly with Wit and Wisdom).

One might think that his vocabulary would make his audience stand in awe, but this is not quite true. While the Wordsense Writer does indeed have a vocabulary to turn a pretentious reader pale, he will never use words his audience can't understand unless they are precisely what he needs to convey the idea. He does not use "pulchritudinous" when "pretty" will do equally well; he does not waste his time typing "enterprising metropolis" when he can say "busy city." Nevertheless, he knows exactly what "corybantic" means and exactly where he'll put it when he needs it.

To be honest (not to imply that I was being dishonest before), this particular writer trait seems a little intimidating to me and, I hope, to you as well. Perhaps there is a "perfect word" for everything, but if there is, how on earth are we supposed to know it? Surely writers are simply born with it, aren't they?

To some extent, yes--perhaps. Writers do need to be born. But the Idealized Writer doesn't come by his wordsense innately; regardless of having some natural talent for syntax, good writers do not hatch, fully formed, from an egg. (Only Lady Gaga does that.) No, no; good wordsense is built. And how do we build it?

Read. Unceasingly. As far as reading goes, gluttony is by far the greatest virtue.

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