The difference between ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m in love with you’ is only a few words but they can mean very different things. Just a couple of words, a very different situation or conversation. Words have clout, they can make you smile, cry, panic, agree, disagree, sign up, unsubscribe, follow or buy and those are just a few of the ways they affect us.
Words also have the ability to influence how you sound. Will your tone be informal, sympathetic, corporate, simple or complicated. Will you call people customers, users, clients, partners? Do you deal with patients, sufferers, victims or those in need? Do you want people to register, join or sign up? Each has its own tone and connotations.
But only when I started using a 1920's Underwood typewriter to send letters did I start to focus on each individual word I wrote and with that came the reaffirmation that every word counts.
As I typed, I was so distracted by the hypnotic click click click of the vintage keys, soon followed by the delightful high pitched ping of the bell as the carriage reached the end of the line, that I hadn't quite noticed the number of mistakes in what I had written.
We're so used to being able to hit the delete key and wipe our mistakes from existence without anyone knowing. We can remove that word here or swap those words over there. Heck, we can make the whole thing disappear and come back with the click of a button.
On a typewriter the mistakes aren't so temporary. Correction tape helps but then it doesn't look perfect, the way we like things to be so the facade of our abilities doesn't seem cracked.
I had written 600 words of an article on my typewriter earlier this year and then it happened. The clicking held me in its hypnotic audible joy and I pressed the wrong key.
I tore the paper out of the typewriter and started again. 300 words later I made a different mistake. I went back a space and typed over the wrong letter with the right one but now I had an illegible character that stood out like a sore thumb.
Tear; load, align, start again. It was the fifth attempt that got me from the first to the last word of the article without a mistake. On the third the carriage shifted so one word was higher than the others. On the fourth the H key stuck and when I put it back in place I knocked the ink ribbon and the perfectly formed words were blemished with a smudge. Thankfully the click click ping as the words unfolded kept me calm and optimistic.
I'm fairly efficient at using a typewriter now. The clicks are quicker, like a piano player climbing through the ranks of different grades and ability. The mistakes are less frequent too but the feeling of frustration when you notice one never wanes or becomes less frustrating.
It takes every ounce of my concentration when I use my typewriter. I have to focus on every letter and therefore every word as I press one letter at a time with complete care. That process has made me a better writer. I now know where I can be more succinct with my writing and how I can be more stringent with my self editing process. I've realised that whether writing for the web, a brochure, a tweet, a call to action or a thank you note, every word counts and we need to take care in choosing them wisely.