OK my writer friends, quiz time. What’s your favorite word?
Ever notice how some words just clang in your ear and others sound like a musical note? Ever notice how you find yourself in speech and in prose returning to certain words again and again?
Of course. Words are the medium we use. How we choose them and how we place them do more to create that mystical, necessary essence we refer to as “voice.” Without it, your prose is doomed.
Well, I think life imitates art in this instance. Our favorite words set the voice for our lives. It’s good to know what they are and what they mean to us. It’s good to remind ourselves of them and use them so our lives too, have voice.
My favorite word is ardor. I love the sound of it. I love its meaning. I love that the word is beautiful, yet its root can also refer to the struggle that accompanies that which has the most value; e.g., the arduous path led to stunning views…
Beyond the nuance of the word ardor, its ethos launches it above other words. I want to live my life with ardor, i.e. enthusiasm and passion.
I’ve been working on my personal mission statement, as I wrote recently. But when I tell people I’m doing that, like my spiritual director, they often can’t hide the quizzical look because the idea of a personal mission statement, on the surface, runs counter to my desire to life a more centered, present, spiritual life. Mission statements are so entrepreneurial and corporate and ambitious, all things at odds with me to some extent. But in crafting a mission statement I have had to center myself, become very present, and decide what I am doing and want to do and should do, so that I can resist becoming enmeshed in good things that aren’t necessarily my things, or worse, not-so-good things I think I should do rather than have faith in the plan centered on the best things that fulfill my purpose here on this side of heaven.
I say all that in my lengthy run-on, breathless sentences to say this: ardor will be in my mission statement once its finished. Ardor is a word I want around me quite a bit.
So, what’s your word?
While pondering this in the grand scheme of your life and purpose and meaning, let me use this word play to make a little point about writing, which is the art form where my ardor originates.
Too often as writers we fall in love with a word. It becomes a crutch. We lean on it and lean on it and burn it out. It loses its specialness altogether. I can do that with the word and. Every now and again, I’ll slide in an unneeded and for emphasis and style points, But way too often it’s just laziness. There was a reason our elementary teachers said we couldn’t start a sentence with and. And, you know what? They were right. (See what I did there? Ha!).
Want to know another word that’s used way too much: furtive. It’s a good word. It concisely describes emotion, physicality and scene. I can understand why it’s often used. But oh man, read any suspense novel these days and everyone is looking at everyone else so furtively you wonder if anyone ever just settles down and relaxes a bit. I don’t recall James Bond ever looking furtively so perhaps it has overstayed its welcome.
Do I have a point? or Two? Yes. Two.
First, find your favorite word. Think of why it’s a favorite. Then live by it. And second … (no, I won’t be lazy, scratch that)….
First find your favorite word. think of why it’s a favorite. Then live by it. Next, root out the words you’ve relied on too much in your prose. Do a search and see how many times they crop up, then dig them out at the root like weeds. Swap in other words. Simpler words.
To recap: Find a great word and live by it. Then rid your prose of the lazy repeated words. Do so and your ardor for both your life and your art will increase. Cross my heart.