Sometime ago, I began work on what would become a series of articles entitled “The Beauty of Ideas.” While that series itself never came to fruition, there were parts of these brainstorms that yielded some highly intellectual fruits. One major breakthrough I had was just how words and ideas are interwoven, however imperfect their union may be, in a way that creates a fine art just like any other.
So, what really are words and how do they conform to expressing ideas? Essentially, words are just approximations of ideas put together in order to create approximations of ideas. Ultimately, they serve as an imperfect way of sharing imperfect forms of ideas. But, words are only one way to express ideas. That’s why there are so many creative mediums. Still, the only art form I have ever excelled at is the written word.
With any form of art, you must always create an opportunity to sit down and engage in that art on a regular basis. When it comes to drawing or painting you can doodle and see what comes of it. With music, you can play around with chord progressions and tunings until you find something that sounds good to work with. It’s really no different when it comes to writing, where words are your palette and the language is your grammar.
I have come to find that people have a misconception that writing actually differs from other fine arts such as music or visual arts. Someone who works with words often struggles with one phrase for hours, days, or even weeks at a time just as a musician would. Just as a painter is constantly looking to tweak their magnum opus with little brush strokes here and there, writers are always looking for a better way to convey an idea in the most precise way possible.
Another misconception many people seem to have with writing is how interpretive one can be with words. Music has grammar just like written and spoken languages. The visual arts have color palettes and geometry as their grammatical guides. Yet, as a writer, I’ve long dealt with amateurs, professionals, and laymen alike that complained that my writing was too abstract or rhetorical. Writers are often forced to confine themselves to specific guidelines if they hope to ever find any sort of success, vocational, popular, or otherwise.
Trying to force my writing to agree with any prescribed limitations, such as word counts, style, and format, rarely works for me. In particular, when I’m forced to set word count goals, I tend to come out with little that’s meaningful. I find that few good ideas beyond the meanings of the words themselves really come out, making the writing feel flat to me.
Unfortunately, training myself to write that way in order to earn whatever living I could as a scribe ruined my own personal writing for the longest time. Eventually, I realized I had to reinvent myself, step away from the professional writing world and embrace the art in a more abstract and free-form way.
The truth is that simply by writing them down, you are giving power to the words. This exercise is worth the effort, as you are giving power to the ideas behind the words, even if together they aren’t forming something beautiful and original. The very act of putting the words together at all in any sort of meaningful way is beautiful.
The English language is particularly difficult with its massive vocabulary of similar words, words spelled the same with different meanings or pronunciations. The ideas behind many words are essentially the same but take different forms for poetic or semantic reasons. Without delving too much into etymology, I can say that English is a great language for conveying ideas, but also a challenging one that frustrates so many of its dedicated scribes.
One of my main problems with the English language is how words with the same sound or spelling can confuse ideas that aren’t related. There are also etymological reasons for these cases, of course. But, these reasons would take an entire series of books to investigate. For now, I’ll just say that it’s an unfortunate accident of the pitfalls of human communication.
Still, for all of their inherent failings, words are still incredible tools as building blocks to convey thoughts and ideas in a myriad of ways. One common creativity exercise involves taking random words from the dictionary and writing a short story using them and their various definitions as a focus. Really, you can take any word and do work with it.
The human brain is great at making unexpected connections especially when putting words together in new and unusual ways. You should let yours be free to explore those connections, because that’s how you discover ideas that are new to you. Some new take on an old idea may unfold in front of you quite unexpectedly. That’s one of the main joys of being a writer.
The inexactness of words can seem limiting and frustrating, at first. But, words also contain so many ideas of their own, even if they remain fragmented and incomplete on their own. Words and ideas go hand in hand when it comes to human understanding, no matter what the written or spoken language form. I suggest that if you ever need something to do is play around with words. You never know what you might discover you were thinking about all along.