Words, Words, and More Words

I’ve been considering words lately in a deeper way than in the past–their meaning, their power, their significance, all in only a few letters. Consider: “Die!” and “Live!” Such powerful sentiments packed into three or four letters.

Checking out a couple of online dictionaries reminded me just how many ways we use the word “word.”

What’s in a Word?

Before I share some of those ways with you, I have what may seem like an off-the-wall question: Did you ever need to take a remedial class?

I hadn’t, not until I prepared to go back to college in 1981 on the GI Bill. During the 10 years between earning my Bachelor’s degree and applying to a local community college, apparently mathematics content had undergone some changes in order to keep up with the technological age. Yes, I know this is supposed to be about words, but stay with me here. There is a point.

When I received word that the counselor assigned to me wanted to schedule an appointment, I asked what it was about, and if we could just discuss things over the phone. But no. She wanted to have a word with me face-to-face. The image that came to mind was of a doctor breaking unwelcome news to a patient.

I wasn’t wrong.

As diplomatically as possible, my counselor informed me that to be accepted into the Computer Information Technology department, I had to demonstrate proficiency in higher math. It seems I’d failed my math entrance exam, and not by just a few points. My failure was so bad, I had to take all three remedial level math courses, Math 098 through Math 100, in order to be ready for College Algebra 101.

Suddenly I was facing a three-semester delay in starting the courses for my major. I was, in a word, mortified. And I must confess, that night I had some harsh words for myself as I looked in the mirror. I’d never failed a test in my life! I just…I have no words to adequately describe my humiliation.

Why didn’t I have a better math background, you may be wondering, if I already had a degree? Well, back in the late sixties, my undergraduate math requirement had been flexible since I was a music major. Instead of traditional math classes, I took Statistics, then Acoustics, and at the end of that semester, I was done with math classes forever. Or so I’d thought.

I told my counselor that delaying the start of my major course of study was not an option. I said I would “study up” and retake the test. She didn’t think much of my plan of action, and told me, in so many words, that she thought I would be wasting my time.

But I was determined, despite her words of warning, to be ready for College Algebra that fall. With less than three months before classes began, I bought the texts and workbooks for those remedial classes, and I started working–make that slogging–my way through them on my own. Sets, subsets, the set of all sets–those were foreign words to me, but I committed them to memory and drilled them into my brain word by word. When I re-took the entrance test about a week before registration, not only did I pass the exam with points to spare, but my counselor had to eat her words.

I also went on to ace my math classes the first two semesters.

And then…then I had to take Calculus. The mere word was enough to make me break out in hives. I’d loved Geometry, especially the syllogistic thinking of theorem proofs. But, I felt wholly unprepared for the big, hairy deal of a course called The Calculus, although no one ever explained what the word “The” was all about in its name. It was, however, always intoned with a certain reverence.

As we worked our way through the first few lessons, I did just fine. But I was anticipating the proverbial “other boot” to drop at any moment.

That is until our professor introduced a concept that negated one of the cardinal rules about square roots, which is you cannot take the square root of a negative number. Turns out you can, however, if you use…wait for it…imaginary numbers. I give you my word I’m not making this up! And I have no words to describe how hard I struggled that morning not to dissolve into giggles. So much for my fear about this big, hairy deal which was obviously all in my imagination.

I’m still convinced, though, that if a woman had come up with the words “imaginary numbers,” no matter how carefully she worded them, she would have been laughed out of the profession.

You know, I have to be honest. For all my anxiety about Calculus, the fact that I actually loved that class is still mind-boggling. My word, it was fun! Still, I’ll take tinkering with words any day over manipulating the square root of -1, even if I had a blast doing it and came out of that class with a third A in math.

Words…ah, words are my first love, right up there with my love of singing. The voice ages, inevitably, but words don’t. Which is why I’ve been delving into words lately. When words are what we “do,” if we don’t love and respect them, even woo them, we risk losing our connection with them, as we would if we neglected a lover.

In addition to writing fiction, for the past 15 years, I’ve also been studying and, with limited success, delving into Internet Marketing. The obstacle I kept encountering was, consistently, which topic to create and promote?

This week I stumbled over the perfect niche market for me. There is a segment of the population I’ve known about for a while and served when my blog was still viable. I identified it from a statistic that’s been floating around since somewhere around 2006 says that 83% of Americans want to be published.

Unless you’re subscribed to the email lists of product sellers in JVZoo and the Warrior Forum, you won’t know about the trend in recent years of marketers wanting to cash in on the hot fiction genres. They create courses on how non-writers can hire ghostwriters to do the work for them.

Only people who love to write will understand my outrage over what one marketer said in his sales letter: “If you are spending your own time writing books yourself, you’re crazy. You’re wasting your time.” That may not be his exact words, but it does reflect his sentiment.

Did that just raise your blood pressure? I know it did mine.

Of course, ghostwriting is nothing new, but considering how much junk fiction is out there on Amazon, and how hard those of us who, you know, actually write our own books, and work at honing our craft, it turns my stomach to see these, these…hacks promoting their methods to unsuspecting aspiring writers.

I’m not in Holly’s league by any stretch of the imagination. I can, however, create the fiction writing version of those remedial math lessons I once worked through, in bite-size pieces, one tiny concept at a time–with imaginary characters instead of numbers.


Tell A Writer
Deborah Gallardo

Ohio-born transplant to Southern California after living in seven other states, two foreign countries and Puerto Rico, this Authorpreneur has had a varied career history. From education to stage performance to later-in-life, full-time motherhood, to writing and directing to semi-retirement, Deb now is focusing on the nuts and bolts of building a sustainable business as an author of fiction and nonfiction and as an online instructor.

Are you an HWC Member?
Don't miss members-only early-bird discounts, members-only live-online workshops and classes, and other benefits.
I will not trade, share, or sell your personal information. I respect your privacy and value your trust. -- Holly Lisle