Own Your Words, by Anthony D. Fredericks

A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

Own Your Words

Recently, I received an email from an acquaintance. He was interested in writing a children’s book (he had never written one before) and had an idea for a “compelling story.” He wanted to know if I was interested in joining him as a coauthor on the venture. I thought about it for about 0.00001 seconds.

“No thank you!”

My reply was not because I had very little time available for the enterprise (which was true). The decision was not based on the fact that I wasn’t particularly interested in joining with a nonauthor for a perilous linguistic journey (which was true). Nor, was my response because of a lack of interest in the subject matter or approach (which was also true).

It was based on the concept of “ownership.”

When I write something—whether it is an informational article for fellow authors, a monthly newsletter about the nature and nurture of creativity (https://www.smore.com/ab280-creatively-speaking), or a new book for children—the words I choose are personal . . . they are carefully and thoughtfully selected because they convey certain emotions, outline considerate actions, or suggest specific changes in one’s thinking. Each piece of writing—article, chapter, blog, book—goes through an intense series of revisions, modifications, alterations, and editing to ensure that each and every word and each and every sentence is the best it can be. (This article, for example, went through 11 revisions before it was sent to my editor.) My obligation is to invest necessary time, energy, and commitment so as to convey precise thoughts, emotions, and insights to my readers.

These words are my words! I selected them because I believe they are the most appropriate for my readers. I own them—temporarily, to be sure—but I believe they communicate the thoughts and ideas that should be enjoyed, embraced, and, quite deliberately, appreciated. They are not shared haphazardly, nor have they been “approved” by a coauthor—a coauthor whose vision might be different from mine, a coauthor whose experiences might be unfamiliar to me, or a coauthor who sees the world through a different lens or from a slightly different perspective.

My ownership of these words implies that I have a passionate attachment to them. And, I do! I have a mandate from readers—both young and old—to convey information and details competently and comprehensively. No one can—or should—do that for me. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one has the right to determine what kind of day I’m going to have.” If I may take the liberty of paraphrasing that quote in terms of writing, I might say, “No one has the right to determine the words (and the emotional context of those words) I should use in a piece of writing.”

It’s all about ownership.

As a writer, you are responsible for the words you select. You alone! The words you decide on must be carefully positioned to foster exact emotions and a singular appreciation of characters, plots, themes, and points of view. Nobody can do that for you. You are responsible for every remark, every sentence, every paragraph. Your vocabulary defines your personality as much as it defines the personality of your characters and the arc of your tales. Own them! And, in doing so, you will imbue them with both passion and perception as well as personality and perfection.

You are the author! Only you can select the appropriate words. Take charge of them . . . help them grow and mature into books that will be celebrated and remembered. Yes, it’s an awesome responsibility—but also a responsibility full of incredible possibilities for your readers.

“Loving your language means a command of its vocabulary beyond the level of the everyday.”

—John McWhorter


Tony is the author of the celebrated Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/3ey0CsG).  [“. . . a must have for all authors writing fiction and non-fiction books. This is one of the best books I’ve seen on the market . . . from beginning to end.” —Amazon 5-star review]. 

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