"I just jumped out the window." I made this comment on a student's essay draft. I had been asking all year long for him to simplify his word choices. He's an intellectual, and during middle school composition, he had the mistaken impression that the more complex his word choices, the better his composition would be. Now, I don't write those type of comments on just anyone's paper. I knew he and his family had a good sense of humor and would find it funny. Otherwise, I would have chosen different words, but he got the point. In the next comment, I asked him to take some time to explain his concept to his younger sister and make the word choices plain and simple, so she could truly understand what he was saying. He eventually got the point: his words have to connect with real people. His audience needs to understand him.
Writers are as much artists as they are scholars. Obviously the content must compel readers, and evidence must support the writers' arguments; however, once those hallmarks of strong composition are met, the inner artist goes to work. Imagine the writer as an art instructor in charge of the art supply closet. Her students will only draw or paint with the supplies she hands them. In much the same way, readers can only imagine images the writer draws for them. Our words are those art supplies. When we write only scholarly content and don't add colorful images through strong word choices, the reader cannot experience a writers full intent and may lack full understanding of the topic or argument.
Good painters know when to put the paints down and walk away, when too much paint or too much texture will actually hinder the image in their minds. They are recreating images from inside their minds onto canvas, and good writers do the same thing with words. English speakers have an arsenal of these art supplies because our language is rich with meaning. We have hundreds of thousands more words in our vocabulary than any other language, and with that wonderful gift comes great responsibility. We have no excuse for flat, unimaginative writing with so many wonderful, meaning-packed words at our disposal.
Writers who master word pictures through concrete images and illustrations connect with their readers in a meaningful way, and that's when they can make a difference. That's when their writing impacts a culture beyond a classroom assignment.