I was one of those kids who hung out at the library, counting the months until I could get an adult card, winning the summer reading contests, taking out more books than I could comfortably carry and then finishing them within the week. But I didn't really grasp the power of words until I was nearly in high school.
In a book of short stories, I read one called "The Ravine" by Ray Bradbury. It's a story in which nothing really happens, but the back of your neck prickles with dread as you read and feel the anxiety of the mother and brother of a boy outside in the night, across the ravine from his home.
Wow! How did Bradbury do that? I enjoyed the story, but I also focused on how he put the words together to make readers not simply understand it, but feel it. (I was excited, years later, to live in Waukegan, IL, Bradbury's hometown, with the very ravine he wrote about running through my backyard.)
After many years as a journalist, I started graduate school and learned to experiment with new forms of writing. I wrote some pretty bad poetry but learned a lot about the importance of choosing exactly the right word. I wrote lame fiction, but learned how to be more creative with the use of quotes and dialogue. And I learned how to write an essay that was not just graceful, but persuasive (if persuasion was the goal).
I have had a work life built around something I find essential in the rest of my life: Making words count.