“Craft,” ways Woolf, applies to “making useful objects out of solid matter,” and it also stands as a synonym for “cajolery, cunning, deceit.” In either usage, the word mischaracterizes the act of writing. “Words,” Woolf says, echoing her contemporary Oscar Wilde, “never make anything that is useful.” She offers us many colorful examples to make the point, and argues also that words cannot be deceitful since “they are the truest” of all things and “seem to live forever.” These qualities of language, it’s uselessness and truthfulness, make the practice of writing as “craft” impossible, since writers do not work by “finding the right words and putting them in the right order," like one would build a house.
Words do not cooperate in neat and tidy ways. Indeed, “to lay down any laws for such irreclaimable vagabonds is worse than useless,” says Woolf, “A few trifling rules of grammar and spelling are all the constraint we can put on them.” Rather than thinking of words as raw material we assemble by rote, or as incantatory symbols in magical formulae, we should think of words as sentient entities who “like people to think and feel before they use them.” Words, says Woolf in her mellifluous voice, “are highly sensitive, easily made self-conscious” and “highly democratic, too.”
Against modern conceptions of writing as a practical craft, in her time and ours, Woolf tells us that words “hate being useful; they hate making money; they hate being lectured about in public. In short, they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is in their nature to change.” At best, she suggests, we can change with them, but we cannot control them or shape and bend them to our ends.