The Power of Words

I don't play an instrument, can't sing in tune, have no skill in any sport, and what little ability I had in drawing and painting has long since waned. The only talent I have is for writing.

I have always believed that this is a talent which is in every way as valuable as being able to act, dance or sing. The importance of being good with words was brought home to me recently because I have had to write two very important pieces.

The backstory is that I discovered recently that Essex County Council is undertaking a consultation on the future of my daughter's school. Like many of the parents, staff, and pupils I found out not from the Council, or from the Headmistress, but from a leaked document on the website of a neighbouring school which had apparently been asked by the council whether it could take the displaced pupils should my daughter's school close.

Within a few days a protest group had been put together and a petition was circulating. My daughter loves her school and is doing well there so I wanted to be part of the campaign to save it from closure. I was asked to compose and design a flyer to distribute locally to encourage the community to join us in our campaign to protect the school. I also wanted to write to the Head of Education at Essex County Council about the plans.

The flyer needed to be worded in such a way that it would be easily understood as a matter of importance and would engender a sympathetic response in the reader. It needed to have a friendly tone and make the point simply but firmly. It needed to outline the issue, explain why it had relevance to the reader, and give simple ways the local resident could help solve the problem. And it needed to do all this on one piece of A5 paper.

The letter to the man responsible for the decision called for even more care and effort. It needed to be professional and direct, not belligerent or in any way insulting or confrontational. It was a long letter so I needed to elicit his goodwill in the first sentence so that he would read the whole thing. It needed, in short, to get him to understand and feel sympathy for me and other parents concerned about their children's futures. It also needed to be perfectly composed with no errors or misspellings so that I could come across as an educated and intelligent individual whose option was worthy of his attention, and not just some shouty lady on the street.

 He'd already received over 8,000 angry emails, so my letter needed to stand out from all the others, smooth over what had gone before, and make real viable suggestions which he would see as helpful. So, for example, whereas the council have said they cannot afford the £20.7 million to rebuild the school (which really does need rebuilding) I suggested a rolling rebuilding programme, thus spreading the cost over several years' budgets. My letter needed to have an effect on the Head of the Education Department at Essex County Council sufficient to persuade him to keep my daughter's school open and consider all and any suggestions which might make this possible.

Well-used words can change things. Words can move a reader to tears, or to action. They can lead to a sea-change in attitude, or convey emotion. I think the importance of using words to effect change has never been clearer to me than in writing that flyer, and that letter, knowing that the words I chose and they way I put them together could have a bearing on my child's entire future.

I don't play an instrument, can't sing in tune, have no skill in any sport, and what little ability I had in drawing and painting has long since waned. The only talent I have is for writing, but I wouldn't swap it for anything else in the world, because writing matters.


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