Words on a Page

Oh, great beauty abounds in language and in the written word!

Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed it so well: “When I read a good book . . . I wish that life were three thousand years long.”

What is it about a story or poem that has the power to stir our souls? What propels writers throughout history to orchestrate their ideas into pure music on the page, a literary symphony of words? Imagery, symbolism, metaphor; great literature lays it out for the reader to behold.

Long ago, it started with humble marks on stone or animal skins.  Today, each letter of the words we read begin as tic marks on an electronic screen or piece of paper. Those strokes, circles, arcs, and tails comprise letters that form an alphabet, and that alphabet forms words, and those words form sentences, and those sentences form paragraphs, and …

The unique selection and placement of words in a work of fiction or nonfiction has the uncanny ability to lift our imaginations and to take our breath away!  Great writers inspire us through the artistry of how they arrange their thoughts through language.

You should write because you love the shapes of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.
—Annie Proulx

But what is it exactly that prompts a writer to begin? Some say it is the writer’s desire to write down that which is hauntingly difficult to say aloud:

In utter loneliness, the writer tries to explain the inexplicable.
John Steinbeck


…there is something that’s almost unspeakable and poems are efforts to speak it bit by bit, like a burden that has to be laid down piece by piece, that can’t be thrown off.
—Galway Kinnell

Others believe that writing is an act of soul redemption or an effort to pin down what is difficult to harness:

People are motivated to write for a variety of reasons, but it’s the child writer who has figured out, early on, that writing is about saving your soul.
—Betsy Lerner, “A Forest for the Trees”


I cannot decide whether it is an illness or a sin, the need to write things down and fix the flowing world in one rigid form.
—Charles Frazier, “Thirteen Moons”

And there’s a universal coagulant in writing it down that assuages a writer’s strong sense of physical and/or emotional pain:

All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story or tell a story about them.
—Isak Dinesen, “Out of Africa”


I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.
—Anne Frank


…that which causes
Pain may well be the spur
Which leads the poet to begin.

Interestingly, some writers become more fluid by adhering to the confines of strict literary conventions.  Traditional forms of poetry like sonnets, villanelles, and sestinas for example, typically require exact form, line length, meter, or rhyme:

Trochee, trochee falling: thus
Grief and metre order us.
—Seamus Heaney, “Audenesque”


I think the rhymes and syllabics help me escape myself.
—Sherman Alexie

And what motivates many writers is a central thread of purpose woven in some existential personal truth:

When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started to mean not just something but everything.
—Markus Zuzak, “The Book Thief”


When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness to darkness.
—Maya Angelou


The tales we tell are either false or true,
But neither purpose is the point. We weave
The fabric of our own existence out of words,
And the right story tells us who we are.
Perhaps it is the words that summon us.
The tale is often wiser than the teller.
There is no naked truth but what we wear.
—Dana Gioia, “The Lunatic, The Lover, and The Poet”


… my words are the garment of what I shall never be.
—W.S. Merwin, “When You Go Away”

Whatever the impetus for putting pen to page, here’s to the beauty and wide-eyed wonder of the written word. Much gratitude to all the sages who have given us their hearts.

Thanks for stopping by.