This afternoon, it started snowing. A lot. In fact, it’s still snowing now, and I’m holding out hope for a snow day tomorrow. I went into my sister’s room to comment on the crazy amount of snow. Her windows face out onto our street, and as soon as she saw the white blanket of snow covering the ground she rushed to open the camera app on her phone and photograph the snow through the window.
As she moved her phone around, trying to capture an angle that showed just how much snow there was, I said to her, “you know, there’s really no good way to show just how much snow there is.” In her pictures, you can see the snow blanketing the ground. But you can’t see the blizzard of white flakes falling from the sky at a crazy pace. A picture tells a thousand words – but her pictures didn’t tell the right ones.
In an email to my brother, I tried to describe the snow in words. I ended up writing something along the lines of “It’s snowing here. A LOT.” Those five words barely even scrape the surface of the amount of snow. How much is “a lot”? In my head, I know what I mean. But my brother is in Australia. “A lot” of snow to him where he is now would mean any amount of snow at all.
I think this is the struggle of writers: to say what is on our minds, and to find the right words to do so. Sometimes we try to describe something and although our description is in fact adequate it does not seem “right” to us, because it does not match up with the perception and thoughts that we have in our minds.
We can never show people exactly what is on our mind. We can’t hook up a USB to our brains and export the data to show people our image of something, or our thoughts or perceptions. To me this is what writing is about. Trying to convey your thoughts in words.
It is easy to find words. It’s harder to find the right words.
As I write this, I am continually opening my curtain to check my window. It is still snowing, as hard as it was hours ago when I walked home from school. Now, the sky is a delicate purple-grey, and the streetlights are on, and as I try to describe this I realize that maybe the fact that we can’t always find the right words isn’t always a bad thing.
If the right words were easy to come by, then we wouldn’t seek out new experiences. If someone could perfectly describe in words what it is like to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, then no one would ever do it – because they could simply read about it.
Because I can’t perfectly capture the moment of watching the snowfall against the glowing sky, I stare a little longer. I try to remember this moment in my brain, and although it is not easy I try to remember it in my writing.
I have always loved writing for the fact that it was a way to remember. I have a note saved on my phone, titled ‘Why I Write’, and a lot of it is about how I write to capture moments so that I never forget them.
As I reread this note that I wrote, the last lines struck me: “I write because the real words aren’t complicated.They lie on the tips of our tongues. They are in a place where our dreams and reality are one. And that is a place I visit, every time I write.”
It’s hard to capture a moment – such as a beautiful snowfall – in pictures, and even harder to capture it in words. I don’t dispute that finding the right words is certainly difficult. But, reading those lines that I once wrote, I can’t help but wonder if it is not the words that are complicated, but if it is only us who make them that way.