William Wordsworth asked that question. Nowadays he’d say “Where has the imaginative idea gone?”
Donis here today. I love my blogmates’ previous observations on the way the English language is changing, and how we are losing or changing the meaning of so many many perfectly good words. I’m sorry about the loss of “whither” and “whence”, at least in American English. So much more concise than “where are you coming from” or “where are you going”? I once read an essay by Mark Twain in which he complained that no one seemed to know how to use “whither” or “whence” correctly, so I suppose those words have been on life support for a hundred years, anyway.
Anyone who is enamored of words, which most writers are, knows what it’s like to try and find that perfect word to convey the subtle shade of meaning you want. My first drafts are filled with blank spaces, which I leave because even though I can think of one hundred nouns/verbs/descriptors that would be perfectly adequate in that place, I know the Absolutely Perfect Word exists, and I can’t quite come up with it. However, I can’t afford to spend fifteen minutes wracking my brain for it, so I leave a blank and torture myself with it on the rewrites.Sometimes I do end up having to use one of those one hundred almost-right words, but when I do, I feel a sense of failure for not having adequately communicated with the reader.
Subtle meaning is only part of what a writer strives for with the perfect word. Sometimes the poetry of the sentence, the way it sounds, can only be served by a particular word. In my current manuscript, I originally wrote a narrative from the POV of one character, but decided later that it would be better to have a different character experience this event and tell us about it. Changing the point of view necessitated a major change in language, even though the gist of the scene was the same.
I read that if you ask an author why he writes, the better and probably more successful writers will answer that it’s because they love language. I think that learning how to manipulate language is like* learning to manipulate the keys of a piano. Language is our instrument, and if we don’t practice, study, experiment, and play with it, as I’ve said many a time, we might end up writing Chopsticks instead of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.