Monday, March 27, 2006

Wordsmithing . . . or not

Early in my writing career a friend kept calling me a wordsmith. “How’s the wordsmith business going?” he’d ask, or “Was that a tough article to wordsmith?” Aside from the ugliness of the term, something about this label bothered me. A wordsmith sounds like someone who works with words just as a tinsmith works with pieces of metal. Words, my friend implied, were the basic unit of my trade. He seemed to think I mainly concerned myself with selecting words and cobbling them into articles and books. To a non-writer, the process of writing may look like an exercise in words. But our task is really much more challenging and satisfying. Composers manipulate themes and harmonies, not notes; doctors treat patients, not organs; and photographers explore light and color, not pixels. In the same way, nearly every successful writer realizes that ideas—not words, sentences, or paragraphs—are the currency of our work. Ideas are the raw materials for our industry. Anyone can learn to use a word correctly. Only skilled writers can identify promising story ideas and develop them into irresistible articles and books.

--Jack El-Hai, The Mystery of Ideas, The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing, p.35-36


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