When a thought takes shape in words

April 27, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Posted in Writing, Reading | 3 Comments

We know people and remember them by what they have said and what they have done. Or at least we think we do.  But memory is an unreliable archive. It’s liquid. It changes shape in conformity with whatever receptacle holds it in a given moment. Our changing circumstances along with the passage of years alter the shape of our memory. We end up losing all but an essence, and it’s a flabby essence.

But words are different. What people write takes a definite shape. That shape holds long after the writer that forged it has passed. How do we know who Socrates was or what he thought? We know because his student Plato wrote it all down. If it hadn’t been for Plato, Socrates would be just another anonymous ancient. It was the words, written down, that carried Socrates from B.C. Athens to A.D. Barnes and Noble.

The same goes for all writers. They are practitioners of a power. It is the power to make us see the world in a new way, to go beyond that and generate new worlds. The writer interprets life for us, points out the things that are important, establishes a reference point.  If we come to love a book at fifteen, it’s still there for us when we’re fifty, unchanged, generously ignoring how we’ve aged.

A little miracle takes place when a thought takes shape in words. It’s like what happens when sand is turned into concrete. A foundation appears. Possibilities present themselves. An authority is acquired.  It is the authority to say that the year is summer, 1963, and America is in its last summer of innocence. It is the authority to bring into being people and places and to make them as familiar as our actual experience.  It is the power to turn on lights that weren’t there before. To be lost in words is to be lost in possibilities. To be lost in words is really to be found in a glistening world of continuously unfolding horizons.



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  1. If a writer can get readers so engrossed in the story they forget they are reading words, the writer has done his job.


    • Absolutely, Norm! We share your philosophy. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

    • Thanks Norm you’ve got it! please help us by writing and reading with us.

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