Kellen GorbettThis article is written by regular contributor Kellen Gorbett. Kellen is a journalist and world traveller. He writes at

“There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah”
—”Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

Recently, a friend and writer posed the question to me, “Which renders more beauty, the holy hallelujah or the broken one?”

Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. I love this version from Jeff Buckley.

In its simplest form, hallelujah means a shout of joy or praise. But Leonard Cohen’s song mysteriously captures the many circumstances hallelujah can be revealed. He invokes the hallelujah in glory, ecstasy, bitterness, frustration, destruction and loneliness.

The Origin of Beauty

The “holy hallelujah” is joy unchallenged. It is praise while all is well. Many would settle for a hallelujah such as this, bathed in sunlight and clothed in white. To me, the holy hallelujah is a celebration of imminent victory, which is to say, hardly a celebration at all. The shout of praise is easy to choose.

The holy hallelujah offers no complexity. It can be one-dimensional and unfulfilling. But it is a joyful shout, and it is good.

We write to discover this broken hallelujah. Life is a battle, and all victories are bittersweet. We sing our victory songs covered in muck and blood and desperation, down on both knees. The broken hallelujah is pain and resolution in one. When sung together, we catch a glimpse of a long, tumultuous story—the story of humanity—unpleasant but glorious.

Find the Reason for Pain

The only requirement,” to be a writer, says Stephen King, “is the ability to remember every scar.”

The greatest asset to a writer is not their talent, their prose, their work ethic or their marketing ability, but the pain they’ve experienced. The broken hallelujah. It’s what makes a writer’s art powerful and impactful. It’s what connects the writer and the reader. The way a writer harnesses their own pain correlates to the beauty revealed in their story.

When writing from personal brokenness, it’s the writer’s job to not succumb to the tragedy of the situation or story. Instead, an antidote must be found for the reason of struggle and the pain of existence. The writer must show proof of the possibility that hope eventually could be revealed, that a broken hallelujah could be softly uttered amidst the strife of circumstances. Losing a story amongst its own despair suffocates the beauty, and the writer’s pain will be wasted in self-defeat.

Here are two ways for a writer to find the beauty that lies within all pain:

1.   Make the pain bigger than yourself

A friend recently had a difficult and painful surgery. She wrote of her daily struggles while recovering in the hospital, but didn’t get a big response from her audience until she stopped writing about herself. She met a very poor family whose father was dying of stomach cancer. They were terrified because they would have no money once he was gone. While still in pain in the hospital, my friend began to share the family’s story instead of her own. “The fact that I was taking a platform where I had been sharing my own pain and using it to fight for someone else really meant something to people,” she said. Her audience sent thousands of dollars to help the struggling family.

There is nothing more compelling than sacrifice (tweet that?) Leveraging the pain in your life to create a platform for another creates purpose for your pain

2. Be vulnerable with your pain

Tell your audience what’s really going on. Go deeper in your writing than the surface level pain you’re going through. Don’t be afraid to describe your feelings. Write long, run-on sentences in a continuous stream of emotional vulnerability. Let them hear your cold and broken hallelujah.

Have you written with the broken hallelujah? How did it feel?


Write for fifteen minutes about the hardship and brokenness of life. Use your own life and be vulnerable in your writing. Write of the beauty that revealed itself from the painful circumstance.

When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to comment on a few posts by other writers, too.

Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).