Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Power of Words Pt. 1

Hearkening back to a younger time, you may remember the old saying: Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me!

Kids say that as a defensive mechanism, but the truth is, words hurt worse than sticks and stones, because they stay in our memories. Words can also uplift and strengthen. Words are powerful.

Think about it for a moment, when we want to find out something we choose a resource and then read the words of that resource (unless you're watching a how-to video, but even then, you are usually listening to words.) Often we take those words at face value, and unless we have reasons to doubt their truthfulness or the resource itself, those words have the power to mold and shape our opinions, ideas, and actions. Words have authority.

Words convey many things. While on Goodreads the other day, I noticed part of a review a friend had posted where she mentioned she couldn't get past chapter three of a novel, despite how promising the premise was, because of the writing style. As a writer, that made me curious to look closer at the novel. I saw that a friend of this friend had also posted a similar review prior to my friend looking at the book. I wondered how much weight that other review had on my friend's reading experience. (Again, why I don't normally go by reviews when choosing reading matter.) Despite the negative feedback this author was getting for her writing style, it piqued my curiosity to find and read a bit of the book to see how I felt about it. Words have influence.

Hopping on Twitter or Facebook we invite ourselves to be bombarded by words. And if these spur of the moment, social media sites are our number one source for information, we are subjecting ourselves to the whims and opinions of whatever is trending or popular at the time. It's scary how so many people take what is written as an opinion and instantly think of it as concrete fact. I've seen the same thing happen to people who subscribe to certain written publications or who watch certain news programs. Someone posts a link to an op-ed or to someone's blog who has some or no accreditation and the online world goes berserk for a little while based on that person's opinion or non-conclusive findings. Words can create scary reactions and spread ignorance.

I had a bad experience last year in regards to a writing critique. It was evident that this beta reader didn't care for my style or subject matter, but they took it a step farther than they should have and turned it into a personal attack. What made their words powerful here was that I really respect this person and value their good opinion. Alas, a good opinion I'm not likely to get. Their words nearly destroyed my love for writing and nearly killed my attempts to improve or even bother writing again. I let this person's words override common sense, especially regarding the fact that they were being very subjective, and that they were only one opinion. Words can destroy.

On the other hand, I had a posse of enthusiastic beta readers who loved my book. They encourage, objectively correct, and uplift. And I've had beta readers that have been not quite so enthusiastic, but still were interested in helping me, not in tearing me down. They knew when and how to be truthful and when to keep silent. I've tried to do the same when I read for others. I had to step back from beta readers and even from doing critiques myself for several months to let the positive words heal the damage one set of negative words had done. Words can also restore and create.

Perhaps you've also experienced something similar.

I don't think there is anything more powerful than words and how we wield them. We don't think of using words as a responsibility usually, since they're our main form of communication. Words come with a price and we can be the receiver or the deliverer. We have a larger impact than we think and we don't always see the damage, repercussions, or kindled hope our words cause. As writers, perhaps we should be setting a better example of using words responsibly and well. Other people, who aren't writers, are reading our words and are being influenced by what they read. Anyone who shrugs off the notion of this responsibility is deluding themselves.

I've been influenced by everything I've ever read. It doesn't matter if I agree with it or not, the words stick and I have a pretty good memory. I remember what emotions those words triggered, what new inspiration opened up in my mind, what darkened or sullied my thoughts, what made me smile, what made me cringe, and certainly what made me mad. It's not just a sensory, fun experience we're delivering to readers. You never know how your words will impact someone else for good or bad. And to assume that what we write won't have any impact at all, again, is delusional.

We can’t help what words other people throw at us, but we can choose our own words. Take a few quiet moments to really think about what words you’ve sent out into the world lately. Were you mostly positive or negative? Did you focus on building up those around you, or were you attempting to tear people down? Were you truthful? Were you spreading information that wasn’t verified? Were you trying to deceive someone else? Were you uplifting and edifying? Were you vulgar or narrow minded? Words shape our character, and sometimes it’s best to stay silent so bitter words don’t poison the world around us.

What are some ways you've noticed the power of words? What impact have words had on you or the people around you?

Stay tuned for my next blogpost where I'll share a story of one time I really blew it with words and what happened.


  1. Aw you poor thing! I hope that mean nasty beta reader got their karmic retribution!

    I totally agree with this post. I'm guilty of slinging words around without really thinking things through, and it's something I've worked on. I don't offend very easily, and I forget that some people are more sensitive than me, so I have to be careful sometimes! The last thing I would ever want to do is hurt someone's feelings.

    I'm looking forward to the time you "blew it" (haha nice word choice..I have a dirty mind, I apologize :))

    1. In the case of the beta reader, they're entitled to their own opinion. They didn't have to like my book. There are times when I haven't really enjoyed stories I've beta read for--it happens. But the important lesson in this, I feel, is to remember to be objective when beta reading. The point of a beta reader is to help, correct, and sometimes redirect the person you're reading for. When you lose that inner desire to help and let subjectivity or even personality differences get in the way, then you're steering into trouble.

      =) I'm very nervous to share one of the blackest moments in my history, but it will illustrate one of my points better than simply talking about it.

  2. Words are powerful. This is why I don't usually read book reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. There's too much unnecessary vitriol, and for what? To what purpose? To shame the author for writing a book? I don't get it. And the same happens with beta reading. I remember that one summer I did the chapter crit marathon, and there was a particular writer who'd get so so defensive every time I (or anyone else, for that matter) would leave her a comment. And then she went to a different forum to make fun of me and my crit. The funny thing is, despite the fact that she didn't like my feedback, she used my suggestions anyway.

    1. I didn't know that writer bad-mouthed you elsewhere. I'm so sorry! That's bad form, for sure.