It’s January 2. You’ve had some nice time off during the holiday season and you’ve recovered from New Year’s Eve. Now it’s time that we get back to work. I’m the first to admit that my writing needs improvement. With that in mind, here are four tips to help you and me become better writers in 2013.
- Sit down and write. There is nothing magical about writing. There are no silver bullets or four tips that will turn you into a great writer. It takes steady, diligent, grinding work and it has to start sometime. If you think that conditions have to be right in order to set the mood then you’ll never get around to forging words into sentences. As Verlyn Klinkenborg said: “Think of all the requirements writers imagine for themselves: A cabin in the woods, A plain wooden table, Absolute silence, A favorite pen, A favorite blank book, A favorite typewriter, A favorite laptop, A favorite writing program, A large advance, A yellow pad, A wastebasket, A shotgun, The early light of morning, The moon at night, A rainy afternoon, A thunderstorm with high winds, The first snow of winter, A cup of coffee in just the right cup, A beer, A mug of green tea, A bourbon, Solitude. Sooner or later the need of any one of these will prevent you from writing. Anything you need in order to write–Or be ‘inspired’ to write or ‘get in the mood’ to write–Becomes a prohibition when it’s lacking. Learn to write anywhere, at any time, in any conditions, With anything, starting from nowhere. All you really need is your head, the one indispensable requirement” (pp. 80-81).
- Read good stuff. This is the one thing that almost every writer agrees will actually help your writing.
- Get a good editor. We all need a second pair of well-trained eyes to go over our work–I know I sure do.
- Write as if you’re dead. Jeffrey Eugenides gave this advice to young writers and I think it is all the more important for people who write on biblical studies and theology. What would it look like if you knew that you would be dead once your book or article was published? It might give you the freedom to write what you really think and not what might impress certain people. It might free you from the fear of being fired or blackballed or ostracized as you speak truth to power. Maybe it would cause you to break free from the implicit expectations within the academic guild of faux objectivity, obscure jargon, and obtuse grammar. Maybe readers would actually enjoy your writing. Maybe your work would challenge them and change them for the better.