Once upon a time there was an old Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith called “Time Enough to Read”. Have you ever said those words to anyone, “Oh I really wish I had time to read” ? Well, I have. If you remember this episode (I have to admit it is fuzzy for me too), the main character is always upset because he never has time to read his books. At some point, the world literally comes to an end and he finds himself, finally, with the time to read, but his glasses are broken (I know there is much more to the story, but you get the irony), so he has the time, but he lacks the ability. Presently, I find myself with both time and ability, but I needed someone to hit me over the head and say “Read stupid!”. It is almost as if taking the time to read is a luxury we only afford ourselves when we think we have earned it. As writers, however, taking the time to read is a necessity.
The truth is that as a society we put much less time into the things we write. Most of the positions I have applied for require filling out an online application. In addition to the resume and cover letter, this form can give an employer a glimpse into your written communications skills. This is where the power of words can be so important. Good, really good, writers understand the power of the written word. Think about authors throughout history like Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Nabokov, and Hawthorne to name just a few. These authors painstakingly studied words and word origins. Many of their works require thoughtful study and, many times, a second source to understand their meanings. While it may not adventatous to require a future employer to have a dictionary close by to understand your answers, some careful thought and research may show just how seriously you take your communications skills. A friend of mine, who often asks me to help him with his writing, tells me to “use some of those fifty cent words of yours”. How can we place a dollar amount on words? If carefully selecting words leads to a job then they are worth far more than fifty cents, but I feel as if this is how we treat our words sometimes.
So, here is my fifty cent recommendation. Look through your resume and cover letter and see if you overuse words and find a thesaurus you trust. Now, find some replacement words but don’t stop there please. Take some time to look up these words to be very sure you understand their meanings. And finally, the best way to allow these crucial words to flow more freely is to read more freely. I recommend taking the time to learn from the artists throughout history while there is still time enough to read.