My favorite articles to write in 2014

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Good writers will admit that it takes a lot of effort to write—not to simply to write well, but to write at all. It’s actually a lot easier to not. And very often, we writer types tend to be our own worst critics… but even so, there’s always something we’ve written we genuinely like.

Today, I want to share some of my favorites written in the last year. These are articles representing some of the work I’m most happy with from the past year, although not necessarily the most read (though some of them are).

I hope you’ll give them a read if you haven’t already:

The day ISIS got a little closer to home

We often fail to realize how closely connected we all are. We look at the world we live in—specifically our North American context—and assume the way we live is “normal.” The persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria is a powerful wake-up call for us, if for no other reason than it reminds us that persecution is actually normal for Christians. It’s not something we read about in our Bible and think, “Gosh, I’m glad things are so much better now.” For many believers in over 100 nations, that’s life: beatings, wrongful imprisonment, verbal abuse, and martyrdom.

Ministry Idolatry

This is actually an article that’s existed for several years, but a few months ago, I rewrote it from scratch. I like the new version a lot more:

If a friend falls, will we encourage people to pray for him and his family (which is right to do), as well as to pray for those he’s wronged (which is equally right and necessary, as Matt Redmond has reminded us)? This is hard in some ways, because it requires us to challenge the idol of our preconceived notions and also the idol of “credibility” (and the danger, again, as Redmond has pointed out, is when we fail to speak out about glaring abuses we actually lose that which we sought to keep).

7 signs you’re reading a book by a prosperity preacher

Not too long ago, my wife was feeling a bit down, and a super-nice lady whose kids go to the same school as our daughter gave her some books to encourage her. Funnily enough, they all happened to be prosperity theology books (which has led to some entertaining and positive discussion around the house).

Every so often we all stumble into prosperity theology, usually unwittingly. While occasionally you’ll get a nugget of helpful truth (in the same way that you’ll find some helpful things in your average self-help book), there’s a lot of goofiness which can make for a fun night of “Joel Osteen or Fortune Cookie.” So, how do you know if you’re reading a book written by a prosperity preacher? Here are seven signs.

If the gospel isn’t in it, should we be singing it?

So there’s a completely accurate report rumor going around that I’m pretty persnickety about music. Like, to the point that I have trouble singing most Sundays. This isn’t because there’s anything terrible with the music at our church—far from it, our church has a pretty robust music ministry (but thankfully no lasers or smoke machines)—it’s just I find myself thinking about the words we’re singing more often than not.

The reasons for this vary: sometimes it’s considering how those words line up with my own life at that moment. Other times, it’s contemplating whether or not the words are actually undeniably Christian, or if they’re just kind of feel-good gobbledygook.

Thankfully I am not alone in this.

How to talk when we talk about God

What kind of pronouns should we use when we talk about God?

We typically default to the masculine “He,” but should we?

Is there anything wrong with referring to God as “she”?

While the answer might seem obvious, it is worth considering. After all, as Christians, we want to speak of God in a way that is pleasing to Him. So, here are a few things to keep in mind when considering how to to talk when we talk about God.

160 of the most terrifying words I’ve ever read

The fact that we can so easily deceive ourselves about the state of our souls. That we can say the “right” words, have a good marriage, go to church regularly—that we can be the model “good” Christian—and only be kidding ourselves. That what we think of as fruit may not be fruit at all.

“But where is the Holy Ghost to be seen in their lives?” 

3 passages I want to preach (but have been afraid to)

By the way, this summer I got over my fear and preached two of these passages:

I’m going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret: preaching is really hard. It’s a task that can (or should) make even the most confident man a little weak in the knees. One of the things that’s always freaked me out has been trying to choose the right passage to preach… What if it’s the “wrong” message for the church, or what if I do injustice to the text? And let’s face it, some texts are significantly harder to teach than others.

Here’s a look at three books I want to preach, but have been afraid to.

Would Paul have used video? Here’s a better question…

The question of whether or not Paul would use video is an important one, but I wonder if it might also be the wrong one.

Would Paul use video to share the gospel? Probably, sure. But, more importantly, what would he use it for?

The preposterous inconsistency of secular sexual ethics

…who draws the line when it comes to sexual ethics in the postmodern secular worldview? Is it purely individual? Is it a constantly moving target? Is the line drawn, as in some views, based on how “good” the fruit appears to be? In the end, it comes down to all sexual preferences being all equally fine, unless they’re too icky or inconvenient for us.

Christian, don’t begrudgingly affirm God’s Word

Public personalities like these aren’t alone in doing the dance. At some point or another we all do it. And as I’ve watched it happen (and occasionally been caught in it myself) time and again, one of the inevitable pieces of fallout is we wind up just having to come out and say what we were trying to not say.

This almost begrudging acceptance of the truth—we really do have to say what the Bible says.

See what made the cut in years past:

My favorite articles to write in 2013

3 things I loved about Through The Eyes of Spurgeon

Through the Eyes of Spurgeon, the new documentary directed by fellow Canuck Stephen McCaskell, was released yesterday. This is something we’ve been waiting a long time for. Why do I say “we”?

Because I was part of the team that made it, writing the screenplay.

This is one of the coolest projects I’ve been a part of in my professional career, one that, a couple of times, I honestly wasn’t sure was going to come to fruition. But here we are. The movie’s out there, and it’s pretty great. Here are a few of the things I loved about being a part of making this film:

1. The process of writing a screenplay and seeing it translated to film.

This was the first time I’d written something of this length for the screen. I was surprised by how similar it is in some ways to writing a book. It takes a ton of time to do this right, but most of the time is spent in the pre-work—in the planning and research. Reading biographies, building an outline, figuring out how to describe the scene. Making lots of revisions. Having friendly disagreements about what to include and what to cut in order to keep the documentary from turning into a trilogy… the process of working all this out is a lot of fun, in part because it’s so challenging.

One small regret was not being able to be present for filming (travelling to Europe for at least three weeks wasn’t feasible with my family situation). It would have been a lot of fun to be on hand to help with any of the changes that always come up when people start speaking in front of a camera, and to actually be in these places that I’ve only been able to read about. (But like I said, that’s only a small regret.)

2. The response has been overwhelming.

Last night, I learned that the film had been played over 10,000 times in 110 countries. While many of those viewing were from North America, nearly every nation with an Internet connection is represented.

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On its first day, Through The Eyes of Spurgeon was seen in 110 countries!

I wasn’t sure how to process it when Stephen shared these numbers with me. And when you look at the map and realize that many of the countries are hostile to Christianity, it’s even more incredible. I seriously struggle with how to even describe that. It’s just… wow.

3. My new appreciation for Charles Spurgeon, our brother in Christ

One of the things that is so dangerous for evangelicals is our tendency to turn our heroes into celebrities. So when you come to a man like Spurgeon, it’s easy to see him as this man who was a mighty untouchable preacher. And mighty though he was, he was also a man.

What I loved more than the stories of his ministry and its effectiveness, more than the controversies he faced, and the books he wrote, was learning about his marriage to Susannah, and his struggles with depression and gout and frequent illnesses, and his feistiness as a child and an adult.

The human Spurgeon is much more interesting than the ivory tower dwelling hero we’ve turned him into. He was a man, one familiar with the same trials and temptations—and like us, did not always resist. This is something we should always remember. Spurgeon—like all the saints who’ve gone before him and since—is our brother in Christ. He’s one used mightily by God, to be sure, but he is one whom we will bow beside when we come before Jesus, not one we will bow to.

I hope you’ll check out the documentary if you haven’t already. Watch it with your friends. Watch it with your family. I hope it’s as much of an encouragement to you as you watch it as it was for all of us who played a part in making it.

Links I like

The Role of Singing in the Life of the Church

Rob Smith:

Christianity is a singing faith. It’s one of the chief things followers of Jesus are renowned for, both down through the ages and now all around the world. While the proportion of singing has varied from time to time and from place to place, most churches today devote about a third of their gathering time to congregational singing and invest a considerable amount of time, money, effort, and energy into the musical side of church life.

But why do we sing? What does our singing accomplish? What purposes does it fulfill? According to Scripture, God has both created and called us to sing for three principle reasons: to help us praise, to help us pray, and to help us proclaim. Let’s look at each of these reasons in turn.

90 facts about the 90s

An (Anti) Guide to Writing

Amber Van Schooneveld:

We act as if “writer” is an exclusive club and only a select few may proudly wear that badge. But talent can be found in the most aggravating places. I often encounter people who, upon hearing I am a writer, tell me that they want to write a book someday. That’s great. Writing books has always been one of my life goals too. But further into the conversation, I find that the last time they wrote was 10th grade.

It can be annoying when people bandy about your dreams so easily, like if I went up to an engineer and said I hoped to build a bridge someday, though I have no intention of devoting any time to the study of bridges. But the aggravating thing is that people who never write can, and in fact sometimes do, sit down and write something brilliant. Writing is not an exclusive talent and some (the best, in my opinion), do it naturally with no study. Writing is not an exclusive club, as much as some of us would like to make it.

The End of the World As We Know It

R.C. Sproul Jr:

I have long argued that Genesis 3 sets the stage for our lives, the Bible, and all of history. We live in a context of battle, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. I have argued in turn that that over-arching battle will be determined based on two other battles. First there is the battle inside the seed of the woman, between our new man and our old man. The more sanctified we become, the better things will go in the great battle. The other battle is within the seed of the serpent. There the battle is between the remnants of the image of God and their own fallen nature.

While it is Still Called Today

Lore Ferguson:

In the morning, when the sky is still blushed pink and the babes have just scattered to their lives, I sit in the corner chair and read, drink my coffee slowly and breathe. All of this month it has been the book of Isaiah and I can’t stop the tears when they come. The promise is overwhelming and I wonder what it was like to be the people who dwelt in darkness, deep darkness, waiting for their light to come.

The Church on the Fringes

Jonathan Parnell:

This vision for gospel witness goes deeper than a few “decisions” made or baptisms recorded. Paul’s ambition for the gospel’s advance is mature disciples of Jesus — disciples warned and taught and made wise in the knowledge of God. Any church’s mission that doesn’t include this is, bluntly, sub-Christian. Put more bluntly, any church’s mission that doesn’t dream of making mature disciples of Jesus actually defies the gospel itself. Jesus died to make new creaturesto make a new world. Any discipleship vision that has standards lower than this is short-circuiting the gospel’s power, and therefore, the power of God (Romans 1:16).

Links I like

Confessions Of A Hardcore Homeschooler

Stephen Altrogge:

I used to think homeschooling was the way to do school. You know, the divinely designed method of schooling. And although I wouldn’t quite come out and say it, I kinda looked down on parents who didn’t homeschool. Why? Because I was a self-righteous idiot who drank a lot of his own awesome sauce.

Then I made a few discoveries that changed my mind regarding the issue of schooling.

Who Was St. Nicholas?

Kevin DeYoung:

Why was Nicholas so famous?  Well, it’s impossible to tell fact from fiction, but this is some of the legend of St. Nicholas:

He was reputed to be a wonder-worker who brought children back to life, destroyed pagan temples, saved sailors from death at sea, and as an infant nursed only two days a week and fasted the other five days.

Moving from probable legend to possible history, Nicholas was honored for enduring persecution. It is said that he was imprisoned during the Empire wide persecution under Diocletian and Maximian. Upon his release and return, the people flocked around him “Nicholas! Confessor! Saint Nicholas has come home!”

10 Historical Myths About World Christianity

Brian Stanley:

As followers of Christ and adherents of the Bible, Christians are called to be a people of the truth. Thus, it is crucial that we seek to understand our tradition as accurately as possible. So consider these top ten historical myths about world Christianity.

The high cost of jargon in fundraising

As someone who works in fundraising, this is helpful.

Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos

Yep.

Why the Church Should Overthrow Nostalgia’s Reign

Aaron Earls:

Whatever it is you enjoyed as a child, be it book or board game, television show or toy, someone is looking to tap into those memories and entice you to enjoy it again.

While Revelation records Jesus as saying He makes all things new, Hollywood is saying it makes old things new. In the world of entertainment, nostalgia is king. That’s especially true this time of the year.

Church As the True Local

Jonathan Parnell:

The mission of God is a mission through his people, the church, who communicate his wonders by advancing his gospel. This community of “little Christs” who advance his gospel, as we’ve seen, do so as the on-the-ground expression of Jesus’s supremacy. And the scope of this advance, with all its historical freight, happens in both distance and depth.

 

 

Write More Better: a new eBook on writing well

I wasn’t a writer until I was one, and I didn’t plan on being one at all. I started writing out of pure desperation. It wasn’t a perceived calling. I didn’t have a fire in my bones or any such thing. I was thrown into a writing job and needed to figure out how to not suck at it.

I approach giving advice on how to write well cautiously because of this. This is not because I don’t know what to say, but because I often feel like I’m making it up as I go along (even when I’m not). Nevertheless,

If you’re in the same boat I was a few years ago, or are just looking for some advice on how to write well, this book is for you: Write More Better: Unoriginal (but helpful) tips for writing well:

This is not the work of someone who has “arrived” or anything like that. Nor is a “here I write, I can do no other” type piece. Just as in the blog series that preceded it, what you’re going to find in its pages that follow are the tips that I’ve found helpful on the journey to becoming a writer.

Download a copy of Write More Better: Unoriginal (but helpful) tips for writing well.

I hope you find the book helpful. Enjoy!

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Also, be sure to get a copy of Sexual Brokenness and the Hope of the Gospel, a new eBook edited by Russell Moore collecting messages from the recent ERLC conference in Nashville. It’s currently $2.99 at the ERLC website.

An Unimaginative Tool for Church Growth

Erik Raymond:

If the evangelical church were a boat then it would have some leaks. And everyone seems to have an opinion as to the problem. If I could put the two most common critiques in buckets they would be 1) the preaching, 2) the appetite of church members. In my years of ministry I have often found it quite ironic that many evangelicals complain about preaching not being “biblical” while pastors often complain about “evangelicals today who don’t want biblical preaching”.

Somebody cue the Alanis Morissette.

Why Writing Style Matters

Justin Taylor shares a great quote from Stephen J. Pyne’s Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction.

How Should We Then Mock?

Jeremy Larson:

But what are Christians to think about the practice of “making fun”? The word fun is right there in the phrase, so how bad can it be? Christians don’t want to unnecessarily begrudge people their happiness or fun, but there does seem to be an inherent aversion among Christians to using mockery (openly) to have fun.

So, as a Christian, it is with some trepidation that I broach the subject of viewing mockery as a valid and effective tool for Christians to use. This viewpoint is not particularly PC, and I fully expect some readers, after hearing my proposal, to head straight for the nearest chicken coop to gather stray feathers, and then to begin warming up the tar.

Why “the Right Side of History” is so Often Wrong

Aaron Earls:

When we argue that a certain position on the topic du jour – be it same sex marriage, abortion, pornography, etc. – will be on “the right side of history,” we assume the future will agree with moral changes we have made.

But who knows exactly what the philosophical framework of the future will be? They may (and likely will) regard our morality with the same derision we often regard the moral perspective of the past, which is itself another problem with this type of reasoning. Ironically enough, arguments about the right side of history often fails to grant a voice to history itself.

Why it’s good to disagree with your past self

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It never fails. You write something, you put publish it, share it, do all the stuff you usually do with a blog post… And then, a few years later, you come back to it for some reason, and realize “Wow, I’m not sure I agree with that anymore.”

When this happens, I actually get pretty happy. Though it might seem strange to say, I don’t want to agree with everything I’ve written over the last six years. Why? Three reasons:

1. I’m not the same person who wrote it. Someone told me you’re the same person you were five years ago except for the people you meet and the books you read. Which, is really a coy way of saying, you should be a very different person if you’re doing it right. A few years (or a few months) from now, we may no longer agree with a popular figure who once was a strong influence. We will meet people and have experience which will affect us in ways we may not even be consciously aware of. We will be exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking through the books we read (at least, as long as we’re being appropriately diverse in our reading). These changes and influences may be conspicuous or subtle, but they will most definitely happen. And that is most definitely a good thing.

2. I’m a different kind of writer than I was then. A few years ago, I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be. Much of my old writing was (in my opinion) sloppy and filled with unnecessary filler (far too many thens and thats and such things). I wanted to be taken seriously, so I used more words instead of better ones. Today, I’m more looking to have fun with words than to present myself a certain way. I want to write in ways material that’s fun to read, and usually this means making things shorter.

3. I’m being refined by God. One of the ways I’ve seen God most at work in my life in this regard has been a slowly increasing concern with character over results. Results can be manufactured, as we all know. But no matter how hard we try, character can’t be. I want to have the kind of character that’s marked with the fruit of the Spirit, to be the kind of person who is self-controlled and considerate. I have a long way to go, but when I look back on things I wrote or said a few years ago, I have confidence that the Lord is at work.

Three books to read and a final encouragement on writing better

All this week, I’ve been writing on writing—specifically sharing what advice I can to help you grow as a writer. Today, I’d like to wrap up recommending a few books on writing that are well worth your time, as well as a final encouragement:

Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson. Wilson’s writing is not for everyone (I know some who downright hate reading him), but the advice he gives in this book is some of the best you’re going to get anywhere. Seriously.

How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark. Clark’s advice is practical, helpful and geared to writing in an age of short-attention spans: “We need more good short writing—the kind that makes us stop, read, and think—in an accelerating world. A time-starved culture bloated with information hungers for the lean, clean, simple, and direct. Such is our appetite for short writing that not only do our long stories seem long, but our short stories feel too long as well.” Well worth checking out.

On Writing by Stephen King. There are few authors as prolific as King, and even fewer who’ve made the impact on popular culture he has. Although I’ve personally not been a fan of his work, On Writing is wonderfully helpful and full of tough love for aspiring authors.

Now, for the encouragement: The last bit of advice I’ve got for any aspiring writers is pretty simple: just write. 

Write more better tip 5

This isn’t mind-blowing by any means, but it’s so necessary. If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write. Don’t write for an audience “out there,” write for you. Write what you enjoy. Write what makes you smile. Write what makes you feel something. Be really comfortable with stinking for a good long while. Don’t worry about how to get published. Don’t worry about how many people are or aren’t reading your blog. But do write. And the more you write, the more you learn from your mistakes, the more you are willing to be coached, if you truly do have a gift for the craft, the better you will become.

Write more better: learn to play!

All this week, I’ve been sharing advice on how to improve as a writer. Among other things, writers need to embrace simplicity, be coachable, and read a lot. But one of the worst things a writer can do is play it safe. I don’t mean intentionally trying to be controversial or anything like that. I mean never try anything different. They stick to their strengths continually, and never attempt to develop in any areas of weakness.

Tip 4: learn to play.

Write more better tip 4

For a writer to grow, he or she needs to be willing to try new things. Here are a couple of key things I’d suggest:

Play with genres. If you write children’s stories, try writing a non-fiction article. If you write on theology, write a poem. These never have to see the light of day, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth trying. One of the best I know in this regard is Stephen Altrogge, who regularly releases short stories, collections of essays, and serial novels through Amazon. This is also why I’m glad my work requires me to write differently than I would here. I write fundraising material during the day (when I write anything). I write about theology and books here. You can’t think about these the same way. And this is a really good thing for me because it makes me a more nimble writer.

Engage in word play. There’s a reason I called this series “Write more better,” and it’s not because my grammar is terrible. It’s because it’s fun to play with words—pay attention to the rhythm of your writing, effectively wield irony, alliteration and other literary devices for the good all who read your work. Try to write something that makes you smile! When I can see an author’s love of words in what he or she writes, I get excited.

Don’t underestimate the value of “fun” as a writer. When you’re in a rut, it shows. When you play it safe, your readers know it. But when you experiment, you’re more creative and engaging (even if the only person who knows about your experiments is you).

Write more better: read!

There are certain authors whose books are about as much fun for me to read as chewing glass. Some are written so poorly that, in my cynical moments, I wonder whether their authors are functionally illiterate or simply hate words. Most of these are written by pastors and academics, sadly.

There are several reasons for this: some, while being very well-spoken, lack writing skills (they’re only being published because they have a big church). But others either don’t read or read too much of the wrong types of books.

And so comes today’s tip for becoming a better writer:

Tip 3: Read. A lot!

Write more better tip 3

This advice is well-known, particularly to those familiar with Stephen King’s On Writing, or Douglas Wilson’s Wordsmithy. Both are strong advocates of writers being readers:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot,” King writes. “There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of.”

“Go for total tonnage, and read like someone who will forget most of it … Most of what is shaping you in the course of your reading you will not be able to remember,” Wilson likewise encourages. “The fact that you can’t remember things doesn’t mean that you haven’t been shaped by them.”

Both advocate reading in terms of sheer volume, but another concern needs to be raised: variety.

Writers—especially Christian writers—desperately need to vary their reading. I’ve never really had a problem reading a lot, but I have frequently had issues varying the genres I read. It’s easy, especially when one writes a lot of contemporary theological issues or reviews books written with Christians in mind, to get stuck reading only books of that sort. This was me up until a couple of years ago when my friend and colleague, Amber, called me out on it and challenged me to start reading fiction again, which I’ve been doing increasingly ever since.

What’s been fun for me in reengaging fiction, beyond enjoying good storytelling, has been looking at how authors are using words–the emotions they’re trying to convey, the response they’re encouraging, what they’re doing to keep me following along and interested… This is really helpful from a practical standpoint (as well as being a lot of fun).

Some may read this and object, saying, “But I don’t like fiction.” Okay. My wife is right there with you. Try it anyway. But try the right stuff. Go to your public library, for goodness’ sake. Ask for recommendations on Facebook or Twitter. Heck, read the blog post I’ll write on this sometime next week! But even if you never want to write fiction, you should still read it. It’ll make your non-fiction work better.

To be fair, being a reader doesn’t make one a writer. Many people read a great deal yet still cannot string together a coherent sentence (without the help of a well-paid ghostwriter). Regardless, while not all readers are writers, exceptional writers are readers.

Write more better: be coachable

I’ve never met a good writer who has it all figured out. The best I know are eager for feedback. This isn’t because they love having their egos stroked, but because they want to get better at what they do. As much fun as praise is—I mean, who doesn’t love reading an encouraging comment (they’re not just an urban legend!) or a thoughtful review of a book you’ve written?—it doesn’t help you become a stronger writer.

For that, you need thoughtful critique. And you also need humility in order to learn from it. Which takes us to the second tip in our quest to become better writers:

Tip 2: be coachable.

write more better tip 2

Being coachable is primarily an issue of character. It means being humble enough to evaluate oneself honestly and to receive instruction and correction where needed. As a writer, there are several groups you must be willing to hear from:

Editors. One of the most difficult moments of writing my second book was when my editor told me, “What you’ve said is right and good and true, but you’re losing focus. I need you to re-work it.” Hearing this, I was disheartened. After all, I’d put in a ton of work already, and the idea of more wasn’t terribly appealing (since I was trying to avoid a season of writing from after dinner until 1 am). But the criticism was bang-on. So, I got to work and we wound up with a better book as a result.

Why do I share this? Because good editors are your best friends. They’re there to help you sharpen your words and ideas, and help steer you back in the right direction when you’re going off on a rabbit trail. Listen to them!

Audience. Yes, our writing is “for” us, but it’s also for other people (or else, we would keep diaries instead of blogs). My favorite moments here have been receiving constructive criticism in a comment and taking that as an opportunity to revisit what I’ve written (this happened last week, in fact). An engaged audience is really helpful to learn where you’re lacking clarity, making a weak argument or a strong point. Listen to them!

Peers. This is a funny group, because they sometimes act as our editors (informally), other times they are a part of our audience, and a lot of the time they’re simply there to help us push through a block or work out an idea. They’re also really great at providing hard critique in a way that doesn’t crush your spirit. Listen to them!

But the ability to listen to any of these really comes down to your character. You can “hear” what’s said and not do anything with it, but your writing will suffer for it. But if you can be humble and learn from the critique (or outright criticism) you receive, and act on it, you’ll be much better off.

Write more better: write simply

Most of my training has come on the job. I didn’t go to school for journalism or anything like that. I wasn’t a writer until I was one, and I didn’t plan on being one at all. So, when I’m asked the question, “How do I get better at writing,” I feel a little embarrassed. This is not because I don’t know what to say, but because I often feel like I’m making it up as I go along (even when I’m not).

I’m kicking off a new blog series called Write more better: Unoriginal (but helpful!) tips for writing well. Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be sharing a few tips I’ve found helpful on the journey to being a writer. If you’re in the same boat I was a few years ago, or are just looking for some advice on how to write well, I hope you’ll find this series helpful.

Alright, let’s get started.

Tip 1: Write simply.

write more better tip 1

What do I mean by “write simply”?

Three things: Avoid technical language. Keep your sentences simple. Don’t be a show-off:

Avoid technical jargon

Now, there are times when technical jargon or other big words are unavoidable. When it is, we should bring clarity by explaining what they mean. But any time we can avoid jargon, we should. Often, we use jargon not because we must, but because it’s convenient. This does a disservice to our readers and paints us as being a bit lazy.

Keep your sentences simple

While there are appropriate levels of complexity, overly-complicated sentences tends to suggest we don’t know what we’re doing.

Take this sentence for example:

A chief programmatic outcome is to ensure beneficiaries have developed sufficient relational skills to thrive.

I’m sure you can figure out what I’m saying here, but there are easier ways to write it. If I were writing with simplicity in mind, it might look a little more like this::

We are going to teach people how to make friends because it’s important.

The first makes you die a little on the inside. The second actually tells you something.

Don’t be a show-off

The best way to summarize this point is as follows:don’t use “utilize” when “use” will do.

I hate people using the word “utilize.” Just hearing the word is like fingernails running down a chalkboard, something that amuses my coworkers greatly. While I don’t believe most people mean it this way, using unnecessary big words often comes across as showing off. You’re trying to impress us with your vocabulary, but you’re really only making yourself look silly.

Five books I’m (probably) not proposing

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One of the scariest part of the writer’s life is proposing books. When I first finally mustered up the courage to send out a proposal for Awaiting a Savior, I was more than a little overwhelmed by the whole experience. The book sat with multiple publishers, most of whom rejected it, before Cruciform Press kindle picked it up and made it the moderately profitable book it is today.

But there have been many (many!) other book ideas that have come up since then. At present I’m hoping to see at least one come to light, but only time (and the Lord’s sovereign hand) will tell. But there are others. Some have the potential to earn tens of dollars, some are purely entertaining for me, and others would probably be best left in a folder called “don’t ever, ever try to write these.”

Which is which? You tell me:

Idea #1: Contentment and the Art of Ministry-Mobile Maintenance

What my franken-car taught me about contentment and humility in the face of strange noises and all-too-frequent repair bills.

Idea #2: How to Win Friends and Pants People

Become an influencer in the wrong crowd with this surefire self-help bestseller.

Idea #3: Your Average Life… Now!

While every day might be a Friday for some people, the rest of us have a case of the Mondays. Own your okayness as you learn that you don’t have to have it all, that a “meh” day isn’t a sign of unfaithfulness and sometimes “success” just means getting your pants on right the first time.

Idea #4: Discipline (Is) For Dummies

Join my children and me on a journey of discovery as we seek to learn about “consequences”.

Idea #5: The Prophets’ Diet

More prophets than Daniel have something to say about your eating habits. With advice from the likes of Ezekiel, Elijah and John the Baptist, this is guaranteed to be the last Christian diet book you’ll ever (want to) read!


An earlier version of this post was first publishing in April 2011. Photo credit: geoftheref via photopin cc

Links I like

#HowOldWereYou: Origins of a Heartbreaking Hashtag

Karen Swallow Prior:

A central plot-line in the disturbing but stunning 1999 film American Beauty involves sexual fantasies about a teen girl by the main character, a middle-aged suburban husband and father desperately living out a quiet nightmare version of the American Dream. In a discussion of the film with my then-boss, an older man, a strong Christian leader and educator, he told me, “Any man who says he hasn’t had such fantasies is a liar.” His candor was as rare as it was refreshing. But what he said wasn’t shocking.

Ed Stetzer offers some additional commentary on the post that inspire #TakeDownThatPost and #HowOldWereYou hashtags of last week.

Right Questions Matter

JD Payne:

There are many questions to be asked about church health and mission. Many are being asked with the right heart. But right motives are no guarantee that the right questions are being asked.

We often ask questions with familiarity in mind. This is a good place to begin, but we can’t remain here. Unfortunately, we often stay put. We have not learned the stewardship of questioning.

The right questions matter.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway has a few books by Kent and Barbara Hughes on sale this week:

Risky Gospel by Owen Strachan is also on sale for 99¢.

Because we’re Christians, kids

Trevin Wax:

There’s a phrase I’ve heard in our home lately. It pops up whenever the kids ask why we do things differently than other people.

I noticed it first when our son asked why he and his sister aren’t allowed to say certain words his friends say.

“Why can’t we talk that way?” he asked.

“Because we’re Christians. Jesus saved us, and we want to honor Him with our lips.”

Perfectionism Will Ruin Your Writing

Marc Cortez shares a helpful quote from Anne Lamott.

Some Observations on Tone of Voice.

Lore Ferguson:

In our day to day life, we’re face to face, tone of voice is heard, body language is seen. On the web, though, and social media, we are left without those necessary cues. If a person uses coarse or aggressive language in a post/comment, and defends their words with, “I just want to have a conversation,” they should understand words that sound conversational to them may sound abusive to someone else. And likewise, someone like me who feels any slight pushback is a personal affront to my character, my spirituality, my soul, and my personhood needs to take a step back and assume a charitable posture.

Look at the Book

A preview of the ongoing video series from John Piper on studying the Bible: