We have all heard “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now maybe not all of us have had bones broken from sticks and stones, but I’d be willing to bet that we have all been hurt by words. I certainly have been. I’ve also inflicted my fair share of pain upon others through words, both verbal and written.
Words carry tremendous power. Words build up, tear down, inspire, and deflate. Words cause joy and sorrow, bring hope and despair, trigger laughter and tears. Every time a writer picks up a pen or sits down at the computer, the awareness of the power he or she wields with one stroke or keystroke should remain at the forefront of his or her mind. Remember the first commandment of the Copyeditors’ Typographic Oath, which also applies to writers: Do No Harm.
However, that does not mean that we be dishonest or disingenuous. The tagline for my business is “It’s All How You Say It.” And that’s exactly my point here. It’s not what we say but rather how we say it. This is particularly important in writing because our reader cannot see our facial expressions or body language or hear our tones of voice that help convey our intended message. All our reader has is our words on the page or computer screen. So, again, we must be mindful of our power and diligent in our responsibility to do no harm.
How can we ensure that we do no harm through our words? We can’t control others’ reactions, right? No, we can’t. We can only do our part. For me, that’s paying attention to my gut instinct when it’s telling me that something is not quite right. It’s putting a piece of writing aside until I’ve had a good night’s sleep and come back to it fresh the next morning. It’s asking a trusted, brutally honest friend to read my piece for feedback. As all writers have their own creative processes, they each have their own filtering systems as they develop their crafts. In the end, the filtering system isn’t what’s important but rather that you have one.
Remember, do no harm. You will rest easier, and your readers will respect you for it.