word bird

Word Bird: Power and Plumage of the Pen

The feisty protagonist of my Other Worldly series, Rowan Layne, is a woman writer who, like me, was once a newspaper columnist in a small town. Accordingly, I will occasionally wax poetic about the writing process in all its joys, and the juggernaut of angst. And if I tend to get a little grandiose in my verbiage, blame my third grade teacher and her “Word Bird” ploy to expand our minds and vocabulary.

First, we made whimsical drawings colored with crayon depicting our idea of a Word Bird. If I recall, mine resembled an ostrich seen at the zoo (I hadn’t yet been introduced to a hummingbird). Next, each child was tasked with choosing a word to share with the class, to be displayed with its definition on the Word Bird bulletin board with our avian art.

I had the opportunity to bring two “word birds” to class. My first word was vociferous. Learning that it meant loud and noisy came in handy with an SAT question later in life, so there’s that. I’ve also been accused of being vociferous at times, not that anyone used that particular erudite word choice (my fourth grade teacher certainly didn’t).

My second word, which I managed to slip into Being Alien, fourth in the series coming later this year, is where I took both “word” and “bird” literally. It was archaeopteryx. The first bird known to humans, and it means ancient wing. More importantly, its spelling was exotic and had a tricky “y,” like my own first name that no one could ever spell or pronounce correctly (including many teachers). My great triumph for the next few years when arguing with my big sister (ask her, she remembers it well) was to toss out, “Oh yeah? Well, spell archaeopteryx!”

This is a long-winded way of saying I love words, and will often use them not to be supercilious or arrogant, but because I find it fun. It’s my plumage, my flair. Today I used a word for the very first time, up there in the first paragraph: juggernaut. I needed to look it up because although I’d seen it, I didn’t actually know what it meant: a huge, powerful or overwhelming force.

The process and result of writing can be huge and powerful. It can also be overwhelming.

We writers often become overwhelmed with self-doubt and unrealistic expectations of perfection. But we’ve got nothing on the rest of the world’s edicts for our craft. Everyone from literary agents to some editors, or critiques from writers groups and beta readers (what I call test readers because, why beta and not alpha? Can only males be alpha? Is this a sexist thing?).

Folks might mean well but perhaps do not recognize their subjective and subversive attempts to make a manuscript into their idea of what it should be, based on books they’ve read. This while I’m striving for originality, hoping to avoid ad nauseam comparisons with every other alien-themed novel, movie or TV show.

But I digress. You begin to see why I ultimately avoided the traditional publishing route. One can only take so many utterances of “I don’t do aliens,” “Is this like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?” or “You can’t have too many characters,” (uh-oh) along with, “Every book absolutely must begin with a high-octane action scene.” Men seem especially adamant about this made-up rule, clearly for those with attention spans the size of gnats, but I’m digressing again.

When I, like my protagonist, lived in a rural central Nevada county that decided guns were more deserving of sanctuary than people, writing was my sanctuary, and cathartic release. My newspaper column may not have had broad readership, because wide open spaces don’t necessarily harbor wide open minds, but it mattered not to me. Each week I sought to craft well-written, well-researched impassioned discourse on myriad subjects.

Yes, I made enemies. Especially when my writing addressed the existence of rampant racism. As I said in Alienable Rights, “My column rendered me a target for locals who got bent out of shape if I wrote anything unseemly about Yearntown or accurate about the Constitution.” Additionally, editors up in Reno randomly removed references to Area 51. Go figure.

But I also made friends through the power of the pen in my newspaper columns. And those women, and even a few men who emailed me with praise or appreciation, made it all worth it.

Words matter. The written word can make a difference to a writer’s life, and to those who read. Kindred spirits with whom words resonate, I’d love to hear from you. You can even tell me if you’ve seen a UFO or two.

P.S. I chose the featured image because the bird looked like its beak was a pen she was fixing to write with. Tell me I’m wrong.


2 thoughts on “Word Bird: Power and Plumage of the Pen”

  1. Alpha applies to both male and female, it is nongendered alone. A wolf pack has an alpha male and an alpha female. They are the only pair that breeds in the pack. Violation of this rule causes a vicious confrontation usually ending in banishment from the pack. But then, wolves, like so many wild species, are known for ritualized aggression.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. But was that mansplaining? 🙂
      And FYI, the red wolf in Aliens Abound is not aggressive. So there 🙂

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