Posted by: susanideus | July 29, 2010

Words, Words, Words

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.  ~Hart Crane

I’ve recently started to “tweet” all of the new book reviews posted for Story Circle Book Reviews.  I’d never considered it difficult to use Twitter; I have a personal account I use somewhat regularly.  But, here, I’m supposed to use title, author(s), reviewer name, condensed URL for the review–and still manage to get in a few words about the book, ones that are interesting and relevant enough to make readers of the tweet want to read the review. Whew! Now read back through that sentence and you have an idea of my problem. Wordiness! I love to use words, the more the better. Why know all these words and not put them to use? To get an idea across in what is left of 140 characters is, indeed, for me, a huge challenge.

In composing, as a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor it will give your style. ~Sydney Smith (English Clergyman & Essayist)

For me, getting something said in 500 words is a challenge! I write submissions that are to have 500 words maximum that begin by having 1400 words. Do you know how hard it is to excise your own words? Of course, if you’re a writer, you do. I’ll look at a piece, thinking it’s exactly what I want to say, just as I want to say it–and then I have to chop it. Somewhere in those 1400 words are 500 nuggets that will say the same thing, convey the same meaning. But, gosh, that’s painful…

Recently, I watched the mini-series John Adams and heard a phrase that both captivated my imagination and caused me to laugh out loud. Abigail had read a closing argument written by lawyer husband John. From the look on her face, he knew she was going to be critical. Indeed, she told him that he would never convince a jury of peers, for they would not understand a word he said. No one, she said, doubted his intellect, but these were common men who would be swayed by plain-spoken words. Instead, she said, he had filled the closing argument with “ostentatious erudition.”  Isn’t that a marvelous phrase?  (When I laughed, my country-boy-at-heart hubby asked me if that was sort of like when Shelby in Steel Magnolias said “an ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure!”? I assured him that was close!)

Now I don’t know that I use ostentatious erudition, but I do know I tend to be wordy. So I view this task of posting to Twitter for SCBR as a good exercise for me. The book reviews are well-written and have a lot to say about the book. It’s difficult to pull out a meaningful phrase or several descriptive words from the whole.

The style of an author should be the image of his mind, but the choice and command of language is the fruit of exercise. ~Edward Gibbon

I’m also one of the editors for the book reviews themselves. As hard as it is to edit my own work–when I know what I’m trying to say–it is harder still to edit someone else’s work to retain their style and meaning. (Review team, know that we do this with loving care and the best of intentions!) Words are wonderful, words are powerful, words are expressive.

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.  ~James Michener

So, as I continue on my journey of being a writer, I keep in mind that editing is necessary, that using words wisely and well is not just a challenge but an exercise in communication as well. I want my writing to speak to my readers, in a way that moves them, that strikes a chord within them.

To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make. ~Truman Capote

Words are amazing powerful tools–I love them, I respect them, and I hope to continue to use them well all the days of my life.

But enough of being so serious. I leave you with two of my favorite quotes on the subject.  Until next time, remember:

Be obscure clearly. ~E. B. White
Eschew obfuscation. ~Bumper sticker


  1. How does the song go? “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.” I envy you the exercise (a little bit). I envy a lot how good you’re going to feel every time you post 140 well-chosen words.

    • The exercise will be valuable as I tone up my writing and editing muscles. But, in the case of the tweets, I won’t end up with 140 well-chosen words, but only 140 characters, including spaces, if you please. This is really abbreviated communication! I know brevity can be a good thing, but whoever came up with Twitter…well, I just can’t believe whoever is a wordsmith. LOL

  2. Susan, I use Tweetdeck to tweet. What I like about it is that it automatically shortens the URL. For example, the permalink for my blog post today was 69 characters. Tweetdeck shortened it to 20 characters. That can make a difference when you’re tight on characters. (Twitter sometimes shortens, but it doesn’t do it until after you’ve sent the tweet.)

    Straight From Hel

    • Thanks, Helen. I use to shorten my links, but there are still very few characters left to work with. I guess it will be a test of my verbose character to make everything fit and still say something worthwhile!

  3. Oh yes. I meant characters. Well, I was trying to help you out there. Every time I post something on Facebook, I have to cut, cut, cut. Even there I go on and on and on. Polonius said brevity is the soul of wit, but he used a lot of words saying it.

    • Polonius was my kind of writer! Words–love them–use them!! I’m always having to chop my FB posts too. Well, I don’t have to cut my Haiku posts since they’re limited in size, but sometimes I have to leave a comment to finish my thoughts, which of course are complex, sort of like this sentence… 😀

  4. What a fascinating challenge. As a frequent reviewer myself, I do not feel ANY need to have my name included in the review tweet. I’ll always yield that space to book description in a tweet.

    • Sharon, I’ll pass that along. I have to admit I’ve thought of it too. The name of the reviewer is prominent when the review is read. Knowing that info from a “tweet” wouldn’t influence me as to whether or not to read it. Info about the book would. Thanks for your candor.

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