Monday, March 1, 2021

How to Prevent Paper-Cut Words

By Kristen Hogrefe Parnell @khogrefeparnell

At what point do you print out a work-in-progress to give your red pen something to scribble on? Personally, I can only do so much editing on screen before I need to see the words on paper.

The other night, I was proofreading one such draft when I turned the page and SLICE! It slit through my pointer finger, leaving an almost invisible but truly painful papercut.

I see you wincing along with me. 

Papercuts hurt in real life, but our words have even more potential to cut. They also have the ability to heal, but it’s not the healing words that usually slip out without warning. It’s the hurtful ones.

How can we prevent papercuts on our hands and others’ hearts?

Turn the pages and our tongues slowly.

If I hadn’t been in such a hurry to flip the page, I wouldn’t have cut myself. In my impatience to finish the chapter, I ended up delaying my progress with a papercut. 

Scripture says that our tongues have the potential to set fires. “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” (James 3:5 NKJV). My twin brother is a wildland fire fighter, and he knows better than anyone how one match or one lightning strike can result in a firestorm. 

Our words can be like that too. One hasty or thoughtless word can be the match that lights an inferno of troubles, hurt feelings, or distanced relationships. However, if we turn our tongues slowly and think before we react, we can stop that fire by never letting it start.

By tongues, I mean both our spoken and written words. As writers, we know the pen is mightier than the sword, and sometimes, our wit can come across as too sarcastic. According to Merriam Webster, the Latin etymology of sarcasm is "to bite or strip off flesh.” In other words, it literally means “cutting flesh.” Let’s take care so that our words don’t cut down but build up.

Think twice before we strike.

When I’m frustrated with a scene that isn’t working, I usually yank out my red pen and start tearing the page apart with markings. 

Later when I’m sitting at my computer trying to decipher my frustrated markings, I get doubly frustrated. The labor of having to untangle my notes becomes almost as challenging as the task of rewriting the scene.

A better approach with editing—and with our words—is to think twice before striking. If I’m frustrated with a scene, I should flag that part for later when I have a more patient attitude to approach it. If someone personally rubs us the wrong way, perhaps we would do well to practice the same patient approach and give the Holy Spirit time to help us discern how best to respond.

If you’re finding yourself having to bite your tongue or watch your words, personalize this prayer from Psalms to your situation.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14 NKJV).

As writers, we should want God to be pleased with our words. Regardless of the circumstances, let’s choose our words carefully and intentionally to prevent unnecessary cuts.


Kristen Hogrefe Parnell is an award-winning author and life-long learner. An educator and mentor at heart, she teaches English online and is an inspirational speaker for schools, churches, and podcasts. Her young adult dystopian novels, The Revisionary and The Reactionary, both won the Selah for speculative fiction, and she is working on several new projects, including a romantic suspense novel. Kristen and her husband live in Florida and enjoy sharing their lake home with family and friends. She blogs at where she challenges readers to find faith in life’s everyday adventures.


  1. Great example Kristen! Thanks for the wise words this morning. :)

    1. My pleasure, Chris! Watching my words is something I have to practice with care, so I'm glad this post resonated with you too.

  2. Such well-written words, Kristen! Thanks for sharing.

    1. You're so welcome. Thanks for your kind comment, Diane!