Timothy Ferris wrote this beautiful piece on why he writes.
I mean that to write competently, you have to know what you’re writing about. Whether you’re composing fiction or fact, song lyrics or an instruction manual, you can succeed only to the extent that you comprehend your subject. Writing a book or essay is like locking yourself in a room with only two exit doors—one door marked “Learn!” and the other “Fail!”
Of course, you don’t just learn: Were that the case, every straight-A student would be a world-class writer.
Writing works the same way teaching does. You talk (or write), and in turn gain a deeper appreciation on the subject. You gain a fresh perspective into your own understanding, and with that you impart.
You also create. You’re trying to make something original, beautiful, and true.
It’s hard work. You’re on your own, confronted with a blank page and the fathomless resources of language. Almost anything can be achieved on that page, from enlightening and exciting your readers to baffling and frustrating them. Artists working in other media may make excuses about tight budgets or bad sound or how the soprano had the flu, but writers have nowhere to hide. They get all the credit or all the blame. It’s a tough gig, but if you pull it off, it can set you free.
The creative part comes into play over here. Just like how an artist begins with a blank canvas, you paint your words onto the page. You draw with your imagination, and the pen, your brush. Language might never transcend all borders the way music or art does, but there is still the same sense of accomplishment.
To be able to put your voice down on paper, and to experience that moment when another actually understands and appreciates your work – that, is satisfaction.
This reminds me of a recent Art of Manliness article, where the importance of having an extensive vocabulary was highlighted.
The overuse of a word to describe a wide range of seemingly unrelated things saps it of any meaning. If a corn dog, a YouTube video, a job promotion, and the Great Wall of China are all “awesome,” then awesome ceases to have any meaning at all. Think of your vocabulary like the dial on an amp – if it’s always turned up to 11, you don’t have anywhere to go when trying to describe something truly impressive. Your only resort is to add empty intensifiers: “But seriously, it was really awesome.” The less you use what should be a meaningful word, the more potent it becomes (this goes for swear words too, by the way).
Conversely, a nimble working vocabulary gives you the ability to make finer and finer distinctions between things so that you can say exactly what you mean, and be explicit instead of vague when sharing your ideas and opinions or simply making conversation. This increases your chances of having other people understand what you wish to express, and at the same time it…
All too often, the language used on the internet degrades itself into empty soundbites and acronyms. I refer to overused words like “awesome”, “fantastic” and “LOL”. The entire AoM article is honestly worth a read, and I would suggest that you take a look, if only to briefly entertain the notion of putting in some time for self-improvement.
Having limited vocabulary is akin to having limited tools at work; there is no other choice, but to bludgeon every problem into submission with that same old club. We lack the means to express ourselves better, we lose subtlety, and everything simply becomes a barbarian’s warpath – there is only one option to every problem.
Coming across these two articles somehow make perfect sense; even a feel of symmetry, of two parts dovetailing if you would. I have to admit, my vocabulary was never the best in school, and neither was my language the most outstanding.
I was an introvert back then, and expressing myself vocally was an obstacle that took many years to overcome. Reading was my refuge, and writing an outlet for self-expression. I suppose I should count myself fortunate that the impulse to write never faded away, and for it to have flourished to this day? A blessing like no other.
Life is what we make of it, and priorities are stacked from our decisions. Reading these two pieces by two vastly different, nonetheless excellent writers in a single day is a solemn reminder that I should persist in my efforts to improve on my language, regardless of the obstacles or distractions ahead.
Perhaps, you should think about it too.