Saturday, July 20, 2013

What Is Beautiful Writing?

We all want to write beautifully. We know beautiful writing when we read it, but being able to do it is a whole different animal. What, exactly, is it? Is it lyricism? Is it simplicity? Is it dramatic, deep insight?

For me, beautiful writing can be summed up in one word: heartfelt. Any of those things above (and plenty of others) can be beautiful if they meet this criterion.

When the writing reflects a natural, deep, organic connection to the feeling the writer is attempting to express, it's incredible.

Not too many people achieve that, at least not consistently.

We are self-conscious about our words, not wanting to sound too sentimental or too unsophisticated. We massage our words to make them better and better, and sometimes the effect is just the opposite—they lose resonance because the 'heartfelt' has been massaged right out of them.

Maybe, as adults who work at being writers, we need to go through this stage to come out the other side where we can reach for fewer and more succinct words that beautifully express our most heartfelt feelings and ideas. The way we would have done when we were very young.

Below is a short piece of prose poetry that shows what I mean about heartfelt writing far better than I can describe. It was published by Seattle Arts and Lectures along with pieces from other children and teens in their Writers in the Schools Program.

The author is Harlow C. Knoerlein, 3rd Grade, B.F. Day Elementary School.


     When you draw my portrait, do it with colored pencils. Draw me in the sand with my hair flying in the wind and waves crashing down on rocks. Draw me wearing a light blue long silky gown with a tiny bit of ruffles at the end. Draw the sun setting on the ocean. Draw the artist's name in the sand. Draw flowers flying in the wind.
     Please don't change anything about my face.
     Draw me running in the sand, with all the crabs crawling right next to me. Draw me singing, and the ocean singing with me.



I don't know about you, but I'd like to take a page out of Harlow's book, and let my writing be as fresh and immediate and heartfelt as this. I noticed that, in the publication this was in (IN THE SLIVER OF A SECOND), even the 8th and 9th graders had become self conscious, even when their writing was really, really good. And that's when it hit me that finding our authentic voice as a writer might just require finding a way to let go of what we think we've learned about life, love, loss etc., so we can burrow down to our most authentic selves.

What do you think? And, do you have favorite beautiful writers?


  1. Beautiful writing is tricky to do, I'll agree to that! I think that might be why we're always told to write what we know. After all, what you know is what has the most feeling in it, right? I don't know. But, yes, we have to find that place where it comes from our hearts and the words aren't merely sentences on the page.

    1. Yes, we have to keep it real. Readers may not know how good they are at detecting this, but they are!

  2. Linda, this is truly beautiful writing. And people want heart-felt... if we could all find it in our writing, amazing things would happen.

  3. I couldn't agree more about what makes beautiful writing beautiful. And that passage, so poignant, a perfect example! One of my favorite authors who writes beautifully is Saundra Mitchell.

    1. I do believe you've mentioned Saundra Mitchell before, Heather. I have to look her up!

  4. I once read a self published book by a friend of a friend. The novel was, by our standards,...not very good. But it was so clearly autobiographical and heartfelt that I found it endearing and sweet. It completely lacked any literary pretension - no complicated post-modern structure, no "fancy" vocabulary, just honest self-expression. I enjoyed letting go of the critic's mind and simply getting to know this friend and hear the story he needed to tell.

    1. What a lovely way to express the importance of reading for authenticity. That writer might just need some coaching from someone who understands technique. That can be taught, but honest self-expression, as you call it, cannot. : )

  5. So beautifully said! Thanks Linda, this is a nice inspiration for my writing day. :)