Did you know there is a website that compliments you? It’s true. Look:
Click the image to go to the site and get yourself some free compliments.
Now on to the real reason I started a new blog post.
What makes words beautiful?
I just finished reading a book from the 1960s called Linsey Herself, by Ruth Wolff. My mom told me I should read it. She said the writing was very sophisticated and that she rarely encounters anything like it in this day and age. After just a few chapters, I was able to see what she meant. The narration has a very nostalgic feel to it, and the narrator – a teenage girl – has a very plain way of telling her story. I don’t mean “plain” as in “boring,” because the writing is certainly not boring, but “plain” as in “she tells it like it is.”
Reading this book, I realized that the writing is quite beautiful. This got me to thinking about what exactly makes words – ordinary, everyday words – into art. What makes them beautiful? Is it a way of arranging them? Is it choosing prettier words over the homelier ones? Take, for example, a list of plain ol’ words:
close (as in the opposite of “far,” not “to close a door.”)
Is there anything special about these words? Not necessarily. We may associate certain things with them. “Love” is certainly a weighty one. But on their own they are no more or less beautiful than any other assemblage of letters. Now take a quote from the first page of Linsey Herself:
It is a strong, tight, circle, our family, stitched close as needlepoint, Mama’s thread being love. – Linsey Herself, page 5
That sentence uses all the words in the above list, and yet it has a certain quality to it that the words themselves lack. And so I must come to the conclusion that it is at least in part about the arrangement. You must treat words like flowers, and arrange them in a way that is most pleasing to the eye. But then you encounter another problem. One I’ve talked about before. Something I call “forced profundity.”
If you sit down with the intent of being profound, of creating beautiful words, then it is my belief that your intent will show through. The words might come out beautiful, but it will seem forced. This is a problem, because we can’t all just wait until the exact right moment strikes us for the spontaneous production of pretty writing. Sometimes you need to be able to control when you produce something beautiful. But don’t worry, because if painters can do it, so can you.
Art is about practice. You can learn how to paint a beautiful flower, sculpt a beautiful woman (or man), play beautiful music, etc. So you can learn to write beautifully.
But I think part of that learning is learning to let go. When you let the words flow through you, go with what your instinct tells you to put down, take your brain out of it, then you’ve got something. Or you’ve got a never-ending stream of consciousness that makes sense to no one but yourself (see this blog). I didn’t say it’d be easy. And thankfully there is such a thing as going back later and editing.
I’ll end with a list of some of my favorite words, which are beautiful to me on their own. Some might even have been Words of the Day.
Abscond (for you, Micah)
What is your favorite word? Tell me in the comments section!
Word of the Day: Ebullient (adj) – overflowing with fervor, enthusiasm, or excitement; high-spirited