Casey Butler Harwood

Why Words Matter

Shortly after I moved to the Eugene area, I found myself at a local makers’ meetup. As someone who works in a creative field (and was experiencing classic new-kid-in-town isolation), I’d wanted to check it out, but admittedly, I felt out of place among the woodworkers and jewelry designers.

“What do you make?” people asked.

“Ummm…” came my reply.

The truth is, I make stories. Hopefully, stories that make people feel something. But first, I build sentences. And to do it, I use words.

We live in an era that champions a sparsity of words; a time when our smartphones suggest emojis to replace the letters that we’ve typed. “People don’t read anymore,” we writers have been somberly advised, as publications have begun producing more and more content that can be absorbed through lazy eyeballs, by short attention spans. But despite all of this, I’m firmly of the belief that words matter.

The words that we choose say so much more than what is written beside them in dictionaries, and choosing them is anything but simple because to be done well, it must be done with care.

Finding just the right words is rarely an easy task. Photo: Casey Butler Harwood/Drawn

In my experience as a copywriter, about 30 percent of my energy is spent on the development of concepts and broad feelings that we wish to convey; the other 70 percent is consumed by the nitty gritty: choosing precisely the right words to do so.

Saying that you feel anxious sounds a lot more dire than saying that you feel uneasy, though they are synonyms, and there is a difference between now and immediately, soon and imminently. The difference is the way each makes you feel.

The thoughtful selection of words is essential in this gig — especially when you’re working within a client’s voice.

This is why I’m fascinated by brand identity. A brand’s voice is but one piece of its public face, but it’s the only piece that actually speaks on its behalf. Ideally, brands’ voices should be as distinct as people’s, and to attain this, consistency is key.

So, when you’re writing for clients, you need to consider how they sound: Are their voices thoughtful? Playful? Tongue-in-cheek? Optimistic? And then you also need to consider how they want audiences to feel: Inspired? Empowered? Intrigued? 

In my opinion, the best content makes you feel what you’re meant to feel in a way that is unique to its creator (and true to that creator’s identity). Accomplishing that isn’t always easy, but without words, it’s a feat no short of herculean. And that is why words matter. Writers may not make something tangible, but we make something palpable, and words are the tools of our trade.