Instead of bringing words to life, Virginia Wolf shows us that they are already alive.
There is no personification. Wolf is so true to words that she doesn’t have to pretend they are something else. It’s incredible that she makes a message so abstract and literary feel so tangible. Words are “irresponsible,” “sensitive,” “full of echoes,” and it makes so much sense.
She even characterizes words as “highly democratic.” One word is as good as another, which means that words can only be “good” with appropriate use. Wolf says a writer must think and feel, so words can tell the truth and create beauty. I had never thought about the life of words. I didn’t even realize that they’re rebellious.
One of my favorite parts is the following: “Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind.”
There is something inherently amusing when writers write about writing, upon the realization that their message lies not as much in what they say, but how they say it.
Read Craftsmanship by Virginia Wolf. The text was published in 1942 as a part of “The Death of the Moth and Other Essays.”