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Use Your Words

Words are funny. Words are powerful. Words are cool—sometimes even when we don’t know what they mean. My son, at age six months or so, would get completely hysterical over words he loved the sound of: itchy, whoosh, kapow! He even came up with a few priceless ones of his own, whose meaning only he knew: widgy-widgy, boof, and, my favorite, va-boom.

I come from a family of professional writers. Words were and are my Legos, my blocks, my roller skates, my backyard jungle gym.

When I was eight years old, I wrote a collection of short stories that my mom “published” (aka copied and stapled together in batches) as a gift for my extended family members. Of course, being only eight, I had no idea how to get my characters out of the strange predicaments into which I had plunged them, so almost every single story ended with “and it was all a dream!”

I thought it was a cop-out until I watched that “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger years later. Actually, I still think it’s a cop-out. But hey, it was the best I could do with the skills I had to work with at the time. I’m guessing the same thing was true for the beleaguered Dallas scriptwriters.

In fourth grade, I wrote a short book that was similarly “published” in my elementary school library—for all I know, it’s still there today. I’d learned by now to write about what I knew, so the storyline followed a young girl, her baby sister and her parents as she negotiated a shaky social life. (At the time, I was heavily influenced by Harriet the Spy.)

In junior high, I wrote an extemporaneous essay on Brahma that got an “A++” from my very strict teacher. At the top of the first page, he wrote, “I have never given this kind of grade in my 30 years of teaching. Children your age are not supposed to be capable of thinking or writing like this.”

In high school, I won a Scholastic Book Award for a short story. In college, I won a Hopwood Award from the University of Michigan for a three-act play. I would go on to win awards for ad copywriting and lots of acclaim and recognition for the restaurant and business columns I wrote for decades.

So what’s with the big brag? Not a thing about me, really. My point isn’t that I’m super-talented. My point is that I have been comfortable with and playing with words since I was old enough to talk. I started keeping a daily journal in elementary school, and I haven’t stopped writing since.

I’m not good at it because I was born with it. I’m good at it because I practice. Like, a lot.

You may think you’re not a writer. But even if that’s not what you list as your occupation on official forms, you are indeed one. You write letters (or, more likely, emails). You write Facebook posts and tweets. You write your resume, cover letters, and thank you notes.

Some of you blog. Some of you send newsletters to your clients. Some of you compose inter-office memos, annual reports, presentations, sales letters or industry articles.

Some of you may even have a book, a play, a poem or a screenplay just bursting to get out.

Yep. You’re a writer, all right. Wouldn’t it be great to feel good at it? To sit down at your computer and not panic or feel the heavy weight of doom hanging over you? Wouldn’t it be freeing to just start typing and actually say something meaningful and real?

This is why I started WriteWorks, a coaching program for established, struggling, and newbie writers. Because not everyone grew up playing with words, the way I did, and you may think there’s some big mystery involved in how to get it done and actually enjoy the process. (If it’s any consolation, I feel the same way about people who grew up playing with numbers—I am easily baffled by even simple mathematical equations. Don’t even get me started on that train leaving Chicago and traveling west at 60 miles per hour.)

We have all been given the gift of language. And to learn to use that gift to connect to others, tell our truths, entertain with stories, and communicate crucial information can actually be a tremendous joy.

You know some great words. Maybe even better than va-boom! How about learning how to use them to better your career, your connection to others, and your life?

For more information about WriteWorks, simply click here.

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