The Magic of Words

There were countless nights that I couldn’t sleep. I shut my eyes and attempted to relax my body, but it only grew stiffer and stiffer. For the thousandth time, I surrendered.

I quietly took out the box of flash cards and went over them. I opened the notes on my computer, culled out the words that stand out to me, and typed them in Quizlet. If I felt more old-fashioned, I copied them on a yellow notebook. I’m always hungry for more words. I want to see the familiar faces in books and newspapers (who read newspapers these days?) and capture their meanings. I infer the meanings of words based on context, but to see the definition elucidates the matter. My favorite section on Quizlet is “SPELL”. I enjoy hearing the word and feeling the whisper between my lips without even realizing I’m typing. My fingers have their own command. 

My process of learning a word is kind of complicated. First I write down its definition and practice the pronunciation, then I read a few example sentences and put it in the context. Even though I rely on Quizlet, whenever I learn a new word I always practice its spelling with my fingers on the desk. Typing a word is not the same as writing it down.

But memorization was scarcely the most important part of learning words. I use new words in daily conversations. We all know the rule: when you just learned a word, you see it everywhere. Books, articles, even the practice problems you’re doing in math. I won’t be satisfied until I use a word confidently in my creative writing. When we write, we tend to use the words that we are most comfortable with. When I start using a word in a typical English essay, I’m close to mastering it.

I don’t remember when did learning words become a hobby and a daily routine. Most of the words on my list come from the books I’m reading. The practice inspires me to read more nonfiction, especially biographies because one can find enormous adjectives in the life of historical figures. My friends were shocked when they saw me learning words during lunch break and had a hard time believing that I’m doing it purely for fun. Not trying to prepare for the SAT or write more impressive essays in English. Those are only side benefits. 

It’s only the beginning of March, but I already learned more than three hundreds and twenty words this year. Being a non-native speaker motivates me and keeps me humble. I was always envious when my peers use a word I don’t know, but now I can proudly say that my American friends sometimes ask me “what does this word mean?”

I’m looking forward to becoming a true wordsmith.

Writers, You’re Not Alone

In my New Year Resolution post, I expressed the will to be in a part of the writing community, and how the best way to achieve the goal is to attend Wordsmith meeting every month.

First, let me explain how does Wordsmith work. Basically, it’s a writer’s group at our local library that allows us to workshop each other’s work monthly. You don’t have to submit anything to attend the meeting. We have about a dozen writers at both ends of the age spectrum: from an eager middle schooler who has admirably vivacious energy to retired teachers who dedicated their whole lives to writing. Because of the diverse nature, the feedback we give and receive are usually not severe criticism but gentle, encouraging advice. Everyone is inherently talented at finding what is doing well is others’ work. 

We recently recruited some new members and their comments again reminded me of the uniqueness of this group. We hear perspectives from different generations, geographical areas, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Last night a high schooler asked an older author curiously what is a happy (cocktail) hour. We talked about the climates in Texas and Indiana. We discussed TV shows from the eighties and cartoon artists in pop culture today. We built bridges between old and young.

I am usually the quiet one. Maybe I’m still a little self-conscious about the fact that I’m an inexperienced high-schooler (who also happens to be a non-native speaker). But when I speak up, everyone listens attentively. Everyone respects my opinion and treats me as equal. The warmth, supportiveness, and vulnerability of this group are what seduced new members (like me three months ago) to stay. We feel more like friends than business partners in spite of our age and background differences.

Because of an email error, I did not receive the reading packet this month. In fact, I was so caught up in other responsibilities that I completely forgot about Wordsmith until, fortunately, one of my writer friends from school reminded me during lunch break. She sent me the reading packet right after school and I spent an hour and a half glued to the computer screen, attempting to read it all. I only took a break to microwave a bowl of noodles for early dinner and my eyes continued to burn as I stuffed the noodles in my mouth. 

I was approximately one minute late to the meeting. On the way I thought, is it really worth it? I’m going on a school trip to New Zealand next week (I will record the journey in future blog posts) and had lots of schoolwork to do. But I brushed it off. Tomorrow is a late start, I can manage it. 

And I was so grateful for my decision. We only have twelve meetings every year, and they never disappoint. We critiqued some truly intriguing stories, poems, and even a song. While I didn’t say much, I observed how others give advice humbly yet confidently and absorbed their knowledge like a sponge in the water. Furthermore, I learned about some wonderful news: our Wordsmith group is planning on publishing a short story collection with the theme “family”. It’s a perfect opportunity to explore the publishing industry without much risk. I’m thrilled to work closely with other writers in the group, and most importantly, I have a short story that seems just right for this occasion.

Afterward, I chatted with the organizer of the Wordsmith group—who happens to be my friend’s dad—about the story. 

“Does it have to be a functional family? Because I’m only good at writing dysfunctional ones.”

He laughed. “Of course not. That’s where I usually go too.”