Words Mean Nothing
Words mean nothing. Words convey no meaning. When I say something, I don’t attach meaning to the words. I intend meaning, but nothing comes out of my mouth but grunts.
When my words hit your ear, they provoke meaning.
I might say 42 and you will either think, number, or if you remember the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you might laugh. Either way, you are responsible for the meaning. I have a part in that I provoke, but like a fist fight, you are entirely responsible for how you respond.
The Amazing Thing
Taking this line of reasoning farther, the amazing thing is that since you were a baby, you’ve had nothing but a string of provocations and you have turned them into a consciousness that is able to understand the world. You’ve taken two towering loving giants hovering over you saying mama and dada, and turned them into a degree in chemistry. Or political science. Or a degree in rocket science. Nowhere along the way have you ever been given an absolute internal correction for your vocabulary, and your method of thinking. It’s all been trial and error. Even the dictionary, when you open it, gives you nothing but more words. You look up those words and find still more words. Nowhere do you find concrete meaning.
What does this have to do with writing? Everything. Because as a writer, you can never know exactly the response your words will trigger. Some will work as you intend, others will miss their mark. You have to learn to be very good at provoking the responses you want. You have to pay attention to how people respond to words, and ideas, and learn which ones provoke empathy, so they like your character, and which ones provoke anger, or fear, so they turn the page to see what happens to your character.
To me, of all the things that could possibly stand in the way of a person writing something meaningful, this is it. The reality that you’ll never know the exact impact of your words… yet you have to utter them anyway.