- First, it has “word” in it. And what is writing, at the most basic level, if not stringing words together? As Stephen King says, “Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe.”
- Then there’s the smith part, which really encompasses the mental work that is editing and attaches a physicality to it. Smiths hammer away at red-hot metal, sweating, bending it, shaping it, in the exact same way writers “hammer” away at their ideas and their paragraphs, sweating, bending them, shaping them until it’s perhaps almost unrecognizable as what they were at the beginning.
One reason I think the idea of being a “wordsmith” is so appealing to me is because it fits in with the Renaissance/Late Medieval culture I spent so many years studying in graduate school and used as a basis for the culture and technology level of Herezoth and Traigland in my fantasy novels. One of my characters marries a smith, and in my first, unpublished novel, two minor characters, brothers of a major character, are also smiths. There is something about the dedication, strength, and training required of a smith that I admire. The first character I ever read about who was a smith was Pip’s uncle Joe in “Great Expectations,” and he was kind, honest, and noble. Sure, he wasn’t real. But I liked him as a character, and I guess he kind of influenced my vision of that kind of labor.
Writing and smithing have much in common, I think, along with other noble callings. They require dedication and hours and hours of practice. Writers, like smiths, learn by “watching” (or reading) the work of others, imitating that work, and turning to others for honest feedback that’s critical but also respectful. A writer is always driven to improve. A writer knows there’s a risk of injury associated with the task at hand–injured pride, injured confidence, crushed dreams–but she also knows that the work is worth the risk.
So I think it’s appropriate–as well as fun–to consider myself and my fellow writers “wordsmiths,” along with editors and translators. Kind of makes me wish Bud Light would make one of their Real Men of Genius/Real American Heroes commercials about a wordsmith. Oh well. We’re not in it for the fame, but for the adventure of wordsmithery!
(just FYI: The first novel in my trilogy is free for download this week, 2/11-2/15. You can find out more about “The Crimson League” here.)