The Power of Writing

What makes (some) writing feel powerful?

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When you finish a good book you often say 'hey, that was really powerful'. This is what writers want. In a sense, all writing - whether fiction or non-fiction - is an attempt to exert power over the reader: to make them believe, feel things, go places, act, think.... above all, perhaps, KEEP READING.

But how do writers achieve this? What makes some pieces of writing echo in the mind, while others fade away?

Obviously, it would take a whole (really potent) book to really get into this subject properly. But here are a few things to think about, whether you're writing a novel, a thank you letter, or a business report.

Powerful writing is:

honest: it feels authentic. Steinbeck once said that when he wrote he imagined he was writing to a single reader. Try this. It keeps you real.

immediate and vivid: it takes you somewhere - a feeling, a place, a mood - fast. Often, this happens with a simple, well-chosen detail. As Chekhov said: 'Don't tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass'.

raw, visceral: it comes from somewhere deep inside. You know this, because you feel it as you read.

simple: it isn't bogged down by superfluous adjectives, cliches, jargon or fancy images. It just says what it means, without pretence.

So, the power of good writing is immense. It can move, provoke, entertain, frighten, educate, enlighten, resist, persuade. That's why, throughout the history of repressive regimes, writers have been locked up, tortured, exiled - their works banned. Writing IS power.

Lucy Atkins


Author of the novels The Other Child (2015), and The Missing One (2014); award winning author & feature journalist.