Letting words say more

With great power comes great responsibility, and words are a powerful tool. So what happens when we don't give them the respect they deserve?

By: Amie Knights,   3 minutes


Innovative. Dynamic. Engaging. These three words were way up there on the ‘word cull’ list at the recent Creative Writing for Business course with Unlocking Potential, run by wordsmith extraordinaire John Simmons.

We were hardly struggling for words either; there are so many which ignite dislike, especially in business writing. As the list grew, I began to question why we wanted rid. There were some pretty handsome words being put up for the cull. I concluded it must be down to the way we use them.

Because the thing is, we can’t (and shouldn’t) cull them. No matter how much our disdain gathers pace on seeing them crop up again and again,  standing alone, these words are really good.

“I think these words are too often used as punctuation. Breaking up drearily dull copy, in an attempt to keep jaded readers awake.”

Wrap your tongue around them and say them with purpose. IN-NO-VA-TIVE. It sounds how it feels and packs the punch it suggests. It’s the same with DY-NAM-IC. Chances are, if you give these words their dues, they’ll prompt a more animate reception, bridge that gap between writer and reader and make the connection we desire.  When used responsibly, these words and words like them have the power to awaken, open and sway minds. They also create a sense of pace and poignancy which everyone on the course agreed was vital in any good piece of writing.

Sadly though, I think these words are too often used as punctuation – breaking up drearily dull copy, in an attempt to keep jaded readers awake. Instead, in their overuse – usually with little or no relevance – they are just sending us all to sleep.

Do words justice

The course inspired me to consider the words I use when I’m writing; that the inclination to click and insert evocative language throughout predominately uninspired copy should be avoided at all costs. During the course, we also agreed on the need for authenticity in writing. If that’s the case, then doing the former is a sure fire way to appear inauthentic. In essence, it’s simply a case of making words count.

The best story ever told (supposedly found by Ernest Hemingway) was a newspaper ad, which went something like this; ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’ In a six word story every word needs to count.  The Guardian’s, ‘To cut a long story short’, competition asked writers to attempt the same feat, with some powerful results. It all got me to thinking about other tactics I could use to make sure every word I write is used to its full potential.

“The inclination to click and insert evocative language throughout predominately uninspired copy should be avoided at all costs.”

So, inspired by John Simmons, I personified.

Meet Innovative – tall, proud, impeccably dressed, gleaming with new ideas and prospect. Now, for all his talent he’s been appointed a role within an office where his skills have no room to shine. He’s then assigned a desk with a group of people who can at best be described as grey. The dullest, most uniform men and women on earth. Initially Innovative puts his all into brightening the mood; challenging minds and propelling change. However, over time it becomes more and more of a strain. The grey people begin to wear down his vision, so that in a role where his skills are forgotten, he is left a lacklustre shadow of his former self.

Sad isn’t it? Mind you, this scenario isn’t much better…

Picture Innovative and his pals Engaging, Dynamic and Inspired all in one room with no one else to level the playing field. A room like that’s a breeding ground for bravado, competition and conflict, undoubtedly resulting in each of them appearing pretentious. Not dissimilar to copy which is just a random jigsaw of buzz words. ‘Engaging our people with innovative ideas and a dynamic outlook means we’re set to excel going forward’ anyone?

All I can imagine when reading sentences like that is a smug, wealthy businessman flicking through a dictionary and rattling off words before his champagne warms in the Marbella sun. For me,  it is neither engaging, innovative or dynamic. Provocative, perhaps; but in the wrong way.

So next time my fingertips are fumbling over the keyboard or my pen is poised over paper, I’ll be thinking of Innovative. And probably that businessman. Not so much Marbella. I’ll be thinking about the words I’m using too – really considering where and when I use them. Hopefully this way, in my little writing corner at least, I can keep the word cull at bay.

What did I learn from John Simmons’ Creative Writing for Business workshop? Do words justice and they will say more.


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