Harnessing Beautiful Writing

In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed myself drawn to some exceptional examples of the written word. I’m not sure why. I don’t normally seek out poetic writers or articles that focus on the flourish and elegance of the words rather than the content, but when it’s caught my eye recently, it’s made me want to remember how it was done, and even to attempt some pathetic imitation myself.

I’ve tried to save & cite a few examples below:

Almost every historical atrocity has a geographically symbolic core, a place whose name conjures up the trauma of a whole people: Auschwitz, Robben Island, Nanjing. For the Oglala Lakota of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that place is a site near Wounded Knee Creek, 16 miles northeast of the town of Pine Ridge. From a distance the hill is unremarkable, another picturesque tree-spotted mound in the creased prairie. But here at the mass grave of all those who were killed on a winter morning more than a century ago, it’s easy to believe that certain energies—acts of tremendous violence and of transcendent love—hang in the air forever and possess a forever half-life.

from In the Shadow of Wounded Knee by Alexandra Fuller

I can only wonder what kind of person I’d be if instead of confronting the past I tried to forget it or, worse, tried to say it wasn’t really that bad. I can only wonder what kind of person I’d be if the stone of cruelty in my heart was subject not to the slow trickle of conscience but rather to my sense of ambition and entitlement — to those jewelers of the self who, beholding the stone, declared it a gem, precious and hard, of inestimable worth in the bazaars of business and politics, and set it for my presidential ring.

from A Bully Never Forgets by Tom Junod

Eventually, the ambulance and police arrive. They ask her a lot of questions and keep looking at us. She tells them that we helped her after she was beaten and raped by three black men in a Monte Carlo. One of the men, she tells the police, was her boyfriend. She refuses to say his name to the police. Gunn looks at me and drops his head. Without saying anything, we know that whatever is in the boys in that car, has to also be in us. We know that whatever is encouraging them to kill themselves slowly by knowingly mangling the body and spirit of this shivering black girl, is probably the most powerful thing in our lives. We also know that whatever is in us that has been slowly encouraging us to kill ourselves and those around us slowly, is also in the heart and mind of this black girl on the couch.

from How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance by Keisa Laymon

Divorce should be declared a form of insanity. I have seen no one walk out of a divorce unmarked. It is one of the few acts you can go through that changes you completely, that by definition will make you a different person than you were before the process began. And that is precisely why divorce is so insidious and harmful and also why it is often so good for you. You can enter the sinister cocoon as a butterfly and stagger out later as a caterpillar doomed to walk under the eye of the spider. Or you can reverse the process.

from Anatomy of a Divorce by Pat Conroy

I stood staring at the enemy’s trophy, the familiar impotent rage rising. But the impulse to fall to my knees, gnash my teeth, and howl at the gods was stayed this time by a resolution I’d made earlier that spring. The squirrels may take my tomatoes and spit them back, but they would not go unanswered. The time had come to close the circle of life.

from Why Eating Squirrels Makes Sense by Mike Sula

In some of these, it’s the simple adjectives (“creased prarie,” “sinister cocoon,” “transcendent love”) creating a dramatically more visceral picture than the facts alone. In others its the emotional force behind the language (“stagger out,” “impotent rage,” “stone of cruelty”) pushing the narrative forward.  And sometimes, it’s the flow of even the most basic sentences, strung together like they were never meant to be apart, forming a paragraph that’s far more than the sum of its parts.

This fantastical level of artisanal eloquence is so lacking in the written works on technology, marketing, startups, and entrepreneurship. I’m forced to wonder, why?

Perhaps beautiful writing has gone under-appreciated in the technology world for so long that we no longer perceive it to have value. Maybe it’s so rare and elusive that we can’t be bothered to seek it out. It could be that there aren’t any truly talented writers entering our field. But, I hope least yet suspect most, it’s because we often don’t care. “TL;DR” is our favorite acronym. There’s a distinct possibility that this art doesn’t matter to readers like us.

I do, however, get a sneaking suspicion that reading more works like this can help to inspire better writing in those of us who dally in the spheres of Techmeme & Hacker News. I want to at least give it a try.