Many freelance writers get paid by the word. The average rate is about 10 cents a word.
I’m convinced 19th century novelists were compensated in the same way. I first suspected this in my senior year of high school as I plowed through all 900 pages of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Other students read the Cliff Notes, but oh no, not me. If the assignment said Read Moby Dick, I was going to read Moby Dick. All 900 pages of it.
Though I believe Melville penned more than a few unnecessary words in his classic novel, we 21st century writers are not quite so free to wax eloquent, especially those of us who are paid by the word. Editors ruthlessly trim unnecessary verbiage and tighten sloppy phrasing. They cut elaborate descriptions down to bare bones and hone phrasing until it is a shadow of its original self. They sift through the sand of the superfluous to find the gems of genius. They make every word count.
By doing so, they eliminate the unnecessary. Only the best words remain. They exchange the flabby for the fabulous, the milquetoast for the mighty. They take a shotgun blast and transform it into a sniper’s rifle.
They refuse to pay for one unnecessary word.
Their frugality makes me wonder.
What if the situations were reversed, and instead of being paid for every word, I had to PAY FOR them? What if every word I spoke cost me 10 cents? What if, at the end of the day, someone pushed a button and generated a tally of all the words I said, multiplied them by $.10, and handed me a bill? What if I had to give an account for every word I said?
I think I’d choose my words sparingly.
I’d only say those that were necessary, timely, and prudent. I’d choose the absolute best words to convey my message. I’d listen closely to others to be sure I didn’t waste words with an inappropriate response.
I’d minimize unnecessary tirades, too, because goodness knows I use lots of words when I lose my temper.
God’s Word tells us that one day we will give an accounting for the words we speak.
“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
Knowing this makes me want to choose my words carefully.
At the end of the day, what would your bill be?
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak,” (James 1:19).
Will you join me today in choosing our words wisely?
This piece was published on Lori’s blog, http://lori-benotweary.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-much-would-someone-pay-for-your.html.
Lori Hatcher is the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine, and the author of the devotional book, Joy in the Journey – Encouragement for Homeschooling Moms and the blog, Be Not Weary. She’s one of OakTara’s newest writers, joining the ranks as a contributor to the anthology Falling in Love with You. She lives in Columbia, South Carolina with her husband, David, and dog, Winston.