How expressions of love can put heart into your writing

As Valentine’s Day nears, let’s look at poems, song lyrics, even entire plays—as well as Oscar acceptance exhortations—that offer techniques and takeaways for communicators.

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This column normally devotes itself to clear, efficient business communication, but with Valentine’s Day coming up, a different sort of devotion seems fitting.

Watch out: Here comes Cupid’s arrow, and it’s aimed not just at romantic pursuits, but also at targets of our larger hearts—our moral, ethical and philosophical concerns and commitments.

Let’s look at examples of loving words and phrases and even entire plays. (No, these are not the only great expressions of affection, so let’s forgo the “You forgot … ” admonitions, shall we?) There are takeaways, too, including some from the Academy Awards.

For our poetry selection, let’s start with a sonnet. (Limericks often fall short in the romance department.)

Here are the first four lines, familiar to many, from a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.

It’s not hyperbole if it’s true. Offer full-throated praise when it’s warranted.

Words and music

Less soaring in its rhetoric is The Beatles’ “And I Love Her,” yet that Paul McCartney ballad is among the most-covered songs in history:

I give her all my love;
That’s all I do,
And if you saw my love,
You’d love her, too.
I love her

She gives me everything,
And tenderly
The kiss my lover brings
She brings to me,
And I love her.

Fellow Beatle George Harrison wrote in “Something”:

Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover.
Something in the way she woos me

I don’t want to leave her now;
You know I believe and how

The Beatles’ lyrics convey the power of stripping away artifice and expressing the essence of the message purely and simply.

Then there’s Bruce Springsteen’s evocative, steamy opening narrative from “Thunder Road”:

The screen door slams; Mary’s dress waves.
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely.
Hey, that’s me, and I want you only.
Don’t turn me home again; I just can’t face myself alone again.

Painting a verbal picture is the heart of storytelling. Audible and visual elements merge through vivid language. What color is Mary’s dress? It’s unstated. That’s in the audience’s mind’s eye, but it’s there, most certainly. Offer some details and withhold others to spur audience involvement on a profound level.

The “me” relating to Orbison’s own soulful lyrics conveys a deep yearning. A pop culture reference can forge a bond with the audience—or introduce them to new influences. (Go ahead: Google Roy Orbison.)

Oscar affirmations

Love for aspiring artists is a professional affection that sometimes manifests itself as an exhortation.

Consider this, from the Academy Award winner for Best Original Score (“Joker”), per the Los Angeles Times:

“To the girls, to the women, to the mothers and the daughters who hear the music bubbling within, please speak up,” Hildur Guðnadóttir said in her acceptance speech. “We need to hear your voices.”

When the platform presents itself, seize the opportunity to inspire.

Then there was a broader call, from the Joker himself, Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix:

“I think the greatest gift that it’s given me, and many people in [this industry] is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless.

“I think, whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice.

“We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, one species, has the right to dominate, use and control another with impunity. I think we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world. Many of us are guilty of an egocentric world view, and we believe that we’re the center of the universe.”

This call for justice and compassion conveys a love for the greater good, and as more and more consumers and employees demand benevolent words and deeds from organizations, such a vehement stand resonates with a great many people.

Stages of love

Lanford Wilson’s play “Burn This” looks at the many ways a woman loves. Anna, a dancer transitioning to choreography, has just lost her artistic partner/muse/roommate, Robby, in a boating accident.

When his brooding brother Pale shows up weeks later—in the middle of the night—to collect Robby’s belongings, Pale and Anna’s mutual magnetism sparks something within her that makes her question her relationships with her work and her long-time lover, and even her sense of herself.

Shifting from drama to musicals, the title character of Stephen Schwartz’s “Pippin” sings “With You” to the love of his life—whom he has not yet met. Here’s the bridge:

To dance in my dreams

To shine when I need the sun.

With you

To hold me when dreams are done,

And oh, my dearest love,

If you will take my love,

Then all my dreams are truly begun.

Sometimes an abstraction lands us closer to the truth than a concrete idea can.

I avoid offering the first person in these writings, but that “Pippin” selection holds special meaning for me. I sang that song, a cappella, to my wonderful wife, Teresa, as a marriage proposal.

I did not sing it with great technical proficiency. (I’m a baritone, and it’s a bit high for me.) Also, it was at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, one day before I had planned to propose at the pinnacle of Coit Tower. Wrong place, wrong time, and probably the wrong key. Still, my flawed rendition was heartfelt.

I must have done something right. Three weeks ago we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.

Profess your love for whomever or whatever—wherever and whenever. Just mean it.

Honesty and sincerity are precious elements in today’s world. Offer them genuinely, and stand behind them.


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