Creativity, Christianity, and Developing Your Personal Style

I love this advice from C.S. Lewis:

The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the reader will most certainly go into it.

In another writing, Lewis expands on this advice:

(1) Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentences couldn’t mean anything else. (2) Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them. (3) Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean ‘More people died’ don’t say ‘Mortality rose.’ (4) In writing, don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is ‘terrible,’ describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, ‘Please, will you do my job for me.’ (5) Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

(both quotes are as published in Excellence by Andreas Köstenberger)

This is probably the best advice I’ve seen lately for writers (aside from Stephen King’s). It’s elegant in its simplicity—which of course means its extremely difficult to put into practice. “Know what you want to say, and . . . [say] exactly that.” Use plain, simple language, be direct, don’t wax eloquent, be direct… Oh, that authors—especially those who are pastors—would take this to heart! There is little that is more frustrating to me than reading poorly crafted writing. Whether your work is overly technical and full of abstract language or simply trying too hard to create an emotional response in your readers, it’s not only forgettable, but it’s boring.

Köstenberger says it well, “There is nothing particularly Christian about dullness or lack of effort in presenting one’s message attractively and memorably. Creativity means appreciating God’s role as creator and sees creativity as a way to bring glory to God and to bring others to him.”

Let’s keep that in mind, shall we?

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