Early in the twentieth century, Ivar Kreuger, a match manufacturer, managed to corner the match market. Through various deals, he ended up with the exclusive rights to sell matches in many countries, including most of Europe, but this monopoly was not enough for him. Back then, it was a common practice for two or three people to light their cigarettes from the same match. Ivar realized that if he could somehow keep that third person from using the match, he could greatly increase his sales, so he had his advertising department start the rumor that it was unlucky to light three cigarettes from the same match. Tales were told of dreadful things happening to the third person who used a match, like the bride who had been left at the altar and the soldier who was killed after each had lit a cigarette from a match that two others had already used. Even today, though most people use lighters, the superstition that it’s unlucky to light three cigarettes from the same match persists.
Kreugar’s story shows the power of words, but how many of us use them wisely? We toss out words as if they were as ubiquitous as dandelion fluff and as valueless, yet words have the ability to affect the speaker just as much as they affect the listener. For example, saying “I love you,” not only makes the recipient feel good, it makes the speaker feel good, and it intensifies the bond between the two people. Screaming, “I hate you” effectively disconnects us from ourselves as well as the other person.
The realization that the words can change us as writers as well as others is making me think about my responsibility as writer. If words are so powerful that they can change readers and writers both, then they deserve my best. I don’t think I’ve achieved my best. At least, I hope I haven’t. Once you have achieved your best, you have no place to go but down, and in many respects, I am still at the beginning of my journey as a writer. Supposedly, a writer doesn’t reach maturity until after s/he has written a million words, and I am still far short of that, even including blog words. (Because, though I tend to forget, blogging is writing, too.)
Still, no matter how much better I get at writing, I don’t think I will ever achieve the success with my words that Ivar Kreuger did, and that’s okay. The legacy of his words is a lie. I would prefer the legacy of my words to be a truth.
Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+