When Words Fail

When you’re a writer, people often assume you always have the right words for any moment. They don’t know about the whole rough draft/editing/tearing your hair out/throwing it all out and starting over again process. Also, they must not realize there’s a delete key that we use often and when you type something utterly stupid you can delete it and it’s just like you never typed it.

There is no delete key in speaking. Or angry emailing. Or drunk texting.

But, when “things” happen, people sometimes (usually more often than not) turn to you to figure out how to best discuss the situation. That’s not meant to say they expect you to give good advice. I don’t think people think of writers as being like Dr. Phil necessarily. I think that’s there’s a presumption that you’ll easily encapsulate what is happening and say it so eloquently that “no truer words will be spoken.” Or something like that.

Writers don’t always have the right words. We have words, usually lots of them. But they aren’t always the right ones. And, even if they are, there’s our voice. It can be snarky, dismissive, condescending, whatever. The voice, the tone, may not be appropriate for the situation. Sometimes we can’t read a situation, sometimes we don’t really how our words come across and sometimes we use humor and snarkiness to deal with a situation because we are just as uncomfortable dealing with it as everyone else.

It’s hard trying to help someone with something when you can’t really help. When there are no actions you can take, no deeds you can perform to help resolve it. Or solve it. Or ease someone’s pain. In those situations, words are sometimes the only thing you can offer. But, sometimes there are no words. It’s not that writers have a hard time finding the right words it’s that there are no words. No words we can choose from our vast vocabulary to help. No words that can fix it or ease it or resolve it. No words at all. Even with the right tone, all the words are wrong.

For a writer, that’s hard. Words are everything to us. The reason we exist. The reason for getting up in the morning and the reason for breathing. And when they fail us, not through our doing or even their doing, it’s the worst feeling in the world. The one thing we love more than almost anything else, can’t help us. Can’t heal. They fail us.

To avoid an “open mouth insert foot” situation, we stay silent. Don’t be angry. Don’t be hurt. It’s sometimes smarter to stay silent, to avoid making the situation worse. In life, there is no delete key, something we all forget, but something we should all remember. Because sometimes words fail us and we, the writer, don’t want to fail you. We don’t always have the right words. And we don’t always have the delete key. So, we let the silence speak. And it says, “Sorry, there are no words.”


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