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Thought # 5

“Passion” is a word that ought to be used sparingly by writers and speakers alike. While any word can be overused and lose its efficacy, “passion” is especially vulnerable to being degraded by over-employment, whether spoken or written.

After all, the word describes a powerful or urgent emotion, a volatile feeling that cannot be sustained because of the sheer force within it. One cannot feel passionate all the time without blowing a seal or valve in one’s head or heart or nervous system. True passion is of a moment, not a constant condition.

So it is that talk of “passion” usually loses its potency when offered up in wine-fueled conversations among fancied artistes or in marketing literature. When I read that an HR department is passionate about selling widgets and is looking for people of equal passion, I quit reading. Loving your office work is one thing. Fervently embracing it is another. No widget is worth it, not to a settled mind, and to suggest otherwise is puffery.

A writer should feel compelled to write—that is, feel passionate about it—for two reasons. First, he or she has something to say that in his or her mind has never been said before. From such innocent zeal can original thinking occasionally spring.

Or, second, a writer is driven to contribute to the public body of literature not in hopes of offering original thought, but to bring new clarity and cogency to current understanding. There may be nothing new under the sun, but there are plenty of old truths that need thrusting out into sunlight again and again for another generation. While original thinking is rare, fresh thinking is more commonplace and always welcomed.

Dispassionate writers are a bland bunch—scribes, more or less—and I don’t enjoy reading them. But openly impassioned ones can be a turn-off, too, all hot and bothered with little semblance of control. A seasoned writer learns to regulate his or her ardor and to channel it into explosive understatement that blows away unsuspecting readers. Unstated “passion” is the real thing.

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