The Prompter Room

 

For Friday, June 23, 2017:

 

We need not fear a future elimination of the book. On the contrary, the more that certain needs for entertainment and education are satisfied through other inventions, the more the book will win back in dignity and authority. For even the most childish intoxication with progress will soon be forced to recognize that writing and books have a function that is eternal. It will become evident that formulation in words and the handing on of these formulations through writing are not only important aids but actually the only means by which humanity can have a history and a continuing consciousness of itself.

Hermann Hesse, ‘On Little Joys’ in MY BELIEF: ESSAYS ON LIFE AND ART

 

Hermann Hesse

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For Tuesday, June 6, 2017:

 

Nothing else does quite as much [as imagination] for most people, not even the other arts.  We are a wordy species.  Words are the wings both intellect and imagination fly on.  Music, dance, visual arts, crafts of all kinds, all are central to human development and well-being, and no art or skill is ever useless learning; but to train the mind to take off from immediate reality and return to it with new understanding and new strength, nothing quite equals poem and story.

Ursula LeGuin

WORDS ARE MY MATTER: WRITINGS ABOUT LIFE AND BOOKS, 2000-2016, WITH A JOURNAL OF A WRITER’S WEEK

 

 

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For Friday, February 3, 2017:

 

According to Genesis, the world begins with a word.  Speech gives way to substance and forms every living thing.  I wonder if this was the first time God spoke.  And I wonder if God began to create because God longed to hear her own voice, to see it take form and flesh in the unfolding of the world.

Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust and … spent the rest of his life turning its horrors into stories, says that God created people because God loves stories.  We are the vessels of God’s voice, her words blowing through us, bidding us to tell the tales that only we can speak.

Jan L. Richardson, IN WISDOM’S PATH: DISCOVERING THE SACRED IN EVERY SEASON

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For Tuesday, December 13, 2016:

 

Words come in textures; words are hard or smooth or squishy soft.  Words have colors; they are pastel, they are bold.  They are neutral.  They are colorless.  Words have sounds derived from their meanings; timid is soft, savage is hard, clamor is loud.  Words are sharp, words are blunt; words have edges that are keen.  There are scalpel words and razor words and words that have a saber’s slash.  Words are dull, words are sparkling.  Words are alive, they are languid.  Words fly, sail, drive, race, creep, crawl.  So many words!  If we are patient – if we will work at the task – we will begin to find the right ones.

James J. Kilpatrick, FINE PRINT (1993)

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For Wednesday, April 13, 2016:

 

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word.  There are no exceptions to this rule.”

Stephen King

Once again I feel compelled – nay, driven, even obliged – to question a statement by a venerable (respected, august, revered, wise) writer.

King’s ‘rule’ is actually a good one for a first draft of anything – fiction, non-fiction, poetry.  The same or similar words can serve as placeholders for the first round, but once revisions begin, I think a thesaurus is a good resource to have on hand.

When I read over the first draft of the current novel-still-in-process, I noticed there were two different words I used over and over again.  I changed some of those instances without a thesaurus (yay me!), some I deleted, some I rearranged so the context was there but the word wasn’t needed.  There were a few times, though, where I wanted more variety in my words, and that’s when I pulled out my trusty friend.

Sometimes the options in a thesaurus aren’t quite right, at least for the particular word itself.  The ‘dictionary of synonyms and antonyms, storehouse/treasury of words, language reference book’ I use most often (Roget’s 21st Century you know what in Dictionary Form), also has a section on context that frequently proves more helpful than the options provided for single words.  Even if I don’t find or use an alternate word, the myriad contexts help me think deeper and more broadly, and that is when this resource becomes a treasure trove.  Sometimes I even learn a new word and that’s always a good thing.

If King wants us to use our brains before we use a thesaurus, I do agree with him.  If he means don’t use fancy words when something simple works fine, I agree with him again.   At the same time, I believe – in my humble opinion – that we can make allowances for the times we want to depart from the norm or the same old-same old, to be innovative, to suggest different shades of meaning (see exception).

As writers, we’re likely familiar with the adage that we should learn the rules in order to break them.  There are some dictums (dicta?), decrees, and tenets (see rule) that can be circumvented, at least, if not broken.  This is one of them, I think, but it should be done with due consideration.  Don’t rely on a thesaurus only, but do use it to explore all the possibilities – the potential, the prospects, the promises – that live within the words we want to use.

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For Thursday, March 31, 2016:

 

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly – they’ll go through anything you read and you’re pierced.”

Aldous Huxley, BRAVE NEW WORLD

“Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.”

L. M. Montgomery, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES

Well, good.  Today’s mistakes must still be waiting, then.  I almost made a biggie as I prepared to write this post – a biggie for word geeks and bibliophiles, anyway.   This will serve as today’s public service announcement, then: always check your sources.

As I was going through emails and Facebook with my morning coffee in my usual morning routine to ease me into a state of wakefulness, I came across something from an online friend that set my mind awhirl with glee.  It was word-related, and it made perfect sense even as I berated myself with ‘I should have known that!’ because it compared two common words ostensibly with the same Latin root.

My three years of high school Latin didn’t leave me with much, but I have retained a pretty good memory of Latin etymology – at least enough to help me with crossword puzzles, and to figure out possible derivations – so I felt secure enough to start drafting a new post for today.  After I had all the pieces in place – a quote, category, tags, the dogs were back in, the first couple of sentences – something made me look up the two words in my etymology books.

It’s a good thing I did.  My online friend is wrong.  The words are not related.  According to my two books,* one does indeed have a Latin origin, but the other is Indo-European, and the words they morphed into over the centuries have no relation either.

So your PSA for today: check, check, check, double-check, and then re-check to be on the safe side.  You may save yourself from embarrassment and mistakes, even if not from disappointment.

(Those two words really should be related, though.  Maybe I can write something at some point that will make that happen …)

The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories: The Life Stories of Over 12,000 Words, ed. Glynnis Chantrell, 2002.  As with all things Oxford, this is a prime resource to have on hand.  The other one I use is Arcade Publishing’s Dictionary of Word Origins: The Histories of More Than 8000 English Language Words, by John Ayto, 1990.  I always consult both.  Once in a great while, they differ slightly, or one has a word the other doesn’t.

If you can get only one, though, go for the Oxford, in its latest iteration if possible.  Both volumes are easy to read and understand, but – personal opinion here – the idea that words have ‘life stories,’ too, is rather appealing.

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, March 8, 2016:

 

“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it.  Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight.”

Ursula K. LeGuin

It’s hard for me to believe, but I started this site ten months ago, and this daily feature of a writing prompt five or six months ago.  My purpose in both is summed up in Ms. LeGuin’s statement above.  I wanted then, and I want now, to serve as a writing companion for other writers, some of whom may be starting out, some of whom may be struggling, some  who may just want company in this sometimes-solitary work we do and who might keep me company.

When I started this venture, my hope was that, via the blogging universe, I could reach others who care about words and writing and creativity as much as I do, or more.  I hoped I could help one or two sister or brother writers move closer to fulfilling their dreams.  If I could do that on occasion, then I could count this adventure a success.

Well, apparently I have managed to do that, at least once in a while.  Others’ feedback and responses have all been generous and positive – sometimes glowing, if I may say so – and I appreciate that more than I can say.  It keeps me going.  Thank you!

Thank you, too, to the two bloggers who recently nominated my blog for two separate awards!   I’m still new enough to this form of community that I need to figure out how to accept these accolades, but when I do, there should be some ‘bling’ here on the site somewhere.  I’m looking forward to that – I may be old, but I still enjoy some fun once in a while!

Thank you to everyone who’s been along on this journey, and I hope you will continue.  It delights me no end that all of us care enough about words – our own and others’ – that we come together through our blogs to help each other and keep each other company.

Bless you all!

~~ Genie

 

The Prompter Room

For Saturday, January 16, 2016:

 

“A word is not the same with one writer as with another.  One tears it from his guts.  The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.”

Charles Peguy

Last night I finished the first round of line edits for the novel-in-progress (does that make it the second draft now?) and discovered, in the process, that I must have one heck of a big overcoat pocket.  There’s one word I used over and over and over, so often that I started to circle it every time it appeared so I can go back and find other options.

I’ve looked through the thesauruses but there are limited choices – which rather surprises me, actually.  I could take the easy way out and alternate among them, but not all are appropriate for the various circumstances in which the word is used.  Besides, I don’t want to dip into that pocket again.  It’s a simple and familiar concept that I want to convey, but I don’t want the word to be simple every time.

My hope is that I can follow the wisdom of Eugene Ionescu.  He writes that “The poet cannot invent new words every time, of course.  He uses the words of the tribe.  But the handling of the word, the accent, a new articulation, renew them.”

So now it’s on to the more complicated part of the process.  Along with some rewriting and reordering, I need to go into my gut and find a way to renew one little word.  Some of the time, at least.