How to write: When beautiful isn’t beautiful

Seattle healer Ellen Newhouse ( and I were working on a chapter of her memoir called Loner. She was describing how she liked to church hop when she was just a young girl. She was Jewish and adored Temple, but also went with friends to Catholic Mass, even took a catechism class.

She was writing about attending a Baptist Church, and wrote that the women at the service were “beautiful”.

As a writing coach, a former journalist, and now a novelist, I have an aversion to descriptive words like “beautiful”. Physical description is always better than using an adjective like beautiful.

“But, Carrie, they were beautiful!” Ellen cried. When I work with clients, I’m passionate about them finding their own voice, and Ellen knew if she liked something she could argue me out of my position. Still, I can’t stand the word “beatiful” and I argued back.

“What was beautiful about them?”

They were just…just…beautiful!” Ellen cried.

I said: “Ok, OK, you can use the word beautiful if you also tell me what made them beautiful.”

“They were fecund. Rotund.”

“Bingo!” I cried.

“Oh. Oh. Fecund. Rotund. Oh yeah. I don’t need to use the word beautiful at all.”


This is what voice is all about. I would’ve described their perfumed smell, their cinched waists, and the mascara on their eyelashes. Ellen described their luxurious flesh. The difference in the choice of description is one thing that defines the difference in our artistic “voice”.

In professional writing, remember, beautiful is never beautiful.

I’m a writing coach and offer a free initial consultation,

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