It is unlikely to come as any surprise to you that I think about words a lot. Not only do I engage with them deeply and daily in my editing work, but I also enjoy pondering their meanings and derivations. Call me curious (or quaint or novel or peculiar), but I am entranced by their cadence and nuance, and intrigued by their implications.
This is why I took great care in choosing the four words that appear on the homepage of this website. Just in case you missed them, they are considered, creative, precise and persuasive. I believe they convey the qualities that characterise artful writing.
With the poetic exception of spontaneously scribbled love notes, most of the meaningful writing we do is considered. Both our message and its expression are given due thought, as we muse over what we want to say and how best to say it. Even those who write fluently spend time reflecting on the selection and arrangement of their words – and it shows. Artful writing flows.
Artful writers, moreover, consider not only the words but also their readers. This invokes the concept of respect, which I find is vital in effective writing. Recognising the needs of your audience and showing them consideration requires the same level of contemplation that goes into your writing. Keep them in mind as you write, and already your words will be more artful.
If consideration is the foundation of artful writing, then creativity is the “art” part of it. This is when things become fun, as idiosyncratic phrases, distinctive images and unexpected juxtapositions start sparkling in your sentences. Such flashes of inventiveness are often what stay in our minds when we read fine writing, and they can bring a definite glow to otherwise customary prose.
For some writers, such creativity is innate, but it can also be developed through practice and attention. Without the gem of creative inspiration, writing may be considered good, but it will never exactly dazzle. Let your imagination play as you write. It may not always deliver what you are seeking, but the effects might surprise you.
Of course, writing can’t only be about play. Creative as they may (and hopefully will) be, the purpose of your words is to communicate meaning. The precision required here involves finding the exact and most apt expression of your message. It demands an adept understanding of language, including a sensitivity to those nuances I mentioned earlier. Artful words are not ambiguous, except when they are deliberately intended to be so. Instead, clarity is crucial in both articulation and form, and this is where editing can be essential. Precision arrives through revision and refinement. Only then can your writing reveal its true – and most artful – power.
We’ve all had that wonderful experience of being enraptured by what we read. It occurs when the words persuade us to engage, imagine, believe and perceive. We allow ourselves to be momentarily or more intrinsically transformed. At times your writing might be explicitly persuasive, such as when you advocate for a particular perspective or outcome. But even when your goal is not so obvious, your words still need to persuade.
It’s a kind of seduction that hints at the more cunning or contrived aspects of being artful – which is not to say that it is manipulative, only strategic. If nothing else, your intention as a writer should be to keep your readers reading. You need to convince them that what you’ve written is worthy of their attention. The approach must be subtle and also respectful. There is a skill to managing this, and that’s why it is a mark of artful writing.
To delight and to inspire
As you can see, artful words are not accidental: they are crafted. Writing that is considered, creative, precise and persuasive may take more effort to produce, but it is also more likely to delight and inspire.
That’s the kind of writing I want to read. It’s the kind I aspire to write too.
What defines artful words for you? What characterises exceptional writing? What qualities or traits do you want to develop in your own written work?