How to Make Your Words Matter

For me, it might be a letter I wrote my dad on his 65th birthday about all the things he taught me.

Or maybe it was the piece I wrote about excessive pay at nonprofits that exposed a local scandal, created pressure for reform — and won me a major national award. Perhaps it’s the pieces I write that teach businesses how to save money and stay in business, or the ones that help freelance writers earn more.

Or maybe it’s that final hug and loving “Laila Tov” — good night — that I say to my children each night when I tuck them in bed.

It’s hard to decide which words matter most. But no question — words matter.

It’s a great time to think on this, since we live in a time when a few words on the right website at the right time can change everything.

Where can writing be most impactful? I thought it was a sign of the times that when protesters sought to overthrow the government in Egypt, those in power didn’t organize book-burnings.

They shut down Internet access.

Writing online may not have the cachet of seeing your byline in a major national magazine...yet.

But when you consider the power the Internet gives you to communicate with anyone and everyone, anywhere in the world — when it has the power to topple governments, incite revolution, and change the map of the world, it would be hard for anyone to deny that what we write is important. And what we write online may be most important.

Words are harder than ever to take back

In my religious tradition, words are terrifically important. Gossip is prohibited for the harm it can do.

In a classic story from Eastern Europe, a woman who has spread evil gossip about another housewife in her town regrets her actions and wants to make amends. Her rabbi tells her to take her best goosedown pillowcase to the town square and rip it open. After she’s watched the feathers float off in every direction, she returns to the rabbi and reports that she has done as he asked.

The rabbi tells her she is now ready to repair the damage she’s done. To begin, she must gather up every one of the scattered feathers.

When she cries that it’s impossible, the rabbi replies — so is taking back what you said and erasing it from the mind of every person who heard your lies. So never gossip again.

And that was just from saying something hurtful. Imagine what the rabbi would have said about a hurtful piece of writing you posted online!

We know that words can hurt and even kill — think of the recent suicides of gay teens.

And what we say pales in comparison to what we memorialize in print, especially on the Internet, where it can be seen by all. In the 21st Century, words written down on the Internet truly live on everywhere and anywhere, forever. The way content is re-posted and copied again and again, we could never eradicate something we wanted to retract.

When you post your words online, they’re there for all the world to see. So don’t take a casual attitude toward your blog. Remember you’re writing for history, and for everybody.

So make it great — and write careful out there!

Words Matter Week

This all comes to mind because it’s Words Matter Week this week, an annual event sponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers & Editors — better known as the place where you can join for $99 and get a free WordPress blog up by this afternoon, along with all the resources and support you need to help build your freelance-writing career.

Enter their Words Matter writing-prompt contests this week, and you can win Amazon gift certificates. Also, you can have a lot of fun challenging yourself.

For instance, today’s prompt is: Words can change history. What speech or document do you believe to be most important. Why?

Which piece of your writing has mattered most? Leave a comment and let us know.

 

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3 comments on “How to Make Your Words Matter
  1. Carol,

    You speak the truth!

    P.R. people like to say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. These days, I disagree with this idea. The Internet makes everything widely available and unbelievably “sticky.” Somehow the retractions never rank as high on the Google search as the original (mis)statement.

    Corinna

  2. Carol,

    This is so true. It seems we often forget the pain words caused us when we were children. Yet we so easily inflict painful and destructive words on others, often without thought.

    I’m reminded how often I ran across comments or tweets wishing harm to Sarah Palin around the time Senator Gifford was shot. I couldn’t believe in the hateful and violent language that was used. People actually tweeted that they wished her dead. I was stunned.

    Regardless of one’s political beliefs, wishing someone dead is horrible and intolerable.

    Just because we can be anonymous on the Internet, doesn’t mean we should use it to hurtful, destructive, or violent ends. Those who do such things should be shamed by the rest of the community.
    David Pancost recently posted…The Michael Weston Guide to Changing Your WorldMy Profile

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