Back when I wrote Words, Wrongly Used I thought that I had, in a nutshell, listed the ways that writing should not ever be used.
Well, let me be the first to say that nothing is ever as simple as it seems and that I was wrong.
When I listed item number 2 (words that are used to hurt others) I was thinking of intentional cruelty. Words can be used to bully and that’s definitely something a good writer should never do. I’ve seen the effects of deliberate bullying and name-calling firsthand.
I never dreamed that my list item number 2 could be taken to mean that a writer should avoid telling the truth because it might hurt someone’s feelings. Writers, good writers, that is, should tell the truth. Truth and clarity are often what distinguishes a great novelist, journalist, or other type of author from a mediocre one.
Sadly, sometimes the truth does hurt –Â but that does not make telling it less important. I can illustrate my point with a less serious (and hopefully somewhat humorous) experience from my own life.
A few years ago my husband and I were attending a live theater production at an outdoor theater. I went to use the ladies’ restroom, which was less than ideally clean. In fact, there was tissue and other trash all over the floor. On my way back from the restroom I noticed several people staring at me and whispering, but no one said anything to me. However, as I walked up to my husband, the first thing that he said was “honey, did you know that you’ve got a streamer of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe?”
That was the truth, and I needed to hear it. No doubt the staring people had also seen the toilet paper trailing behind me as I walked back to my seat, but were afraid to mention it to me for fear that they might hurt my feelings.
I still think that being intentionally cruel with words without reason is wrong. However, sometimes writers do need to tell the truth — even when it’s uncomfortable or awkward to do so.
Contents (c) Copyright 2007, Laura Spencer. All rights reserved.