A quick piece of writing advice

Writers, at least in my experience, tend to overestimate their ability to write but underestimate their ability to observe. Literary skill is a precious jewel, but it is not as valuable to the reader as a drawing his attention to something he has missed. 

The generalist model of blogging is the dominant one in evangelical circles. “Let’s engage culture with the gospel,” it goes, and “culture” often means whatever the Twitter hive or coastal media is chatting about. And usually the folks who get in on this kind of writing are focused on their vocabulary, organization, and speed with which they get content up.This is unfortunate, for two reasons. First, it results in a lot of writers who sound exactly alike. Second, it encourages writers to ignore their immediate surroundings—to ignore that which they have the greatest ability to actually see and think about—and focus on what they think will get them noticed. 

Now some writers will sense this and interpret it as a call to memoir. That’s…not what I mean. A lot of memoir gets written out of the mistaken assumption that a person’s life experiences explain the world. I’m actually talking about something close to the opposite. The most powerful writing I come across is writing that sees something I ignore or forget about, and, with beauty and clarity, opens my eyes so that not only can I see it as I’m reading, I can see it long after I’m done. This can be anything: a theological truth, a place, a person, an idea. The question is not, “Is this a topic we Need to Discuss?” The question is, “What do you see in this, why does it matter that you see it, and how can everyone else see it too?” 

Aspiring writers should receive this as really good news. You don’t have to try so hard to get respect from your writing. Just stop that; it wouldn’t give you what you want even if you thought it had. Don’t write to get noticed; you won’t be good enough most of the time, and even when you are, you’ll be forgotten as quickly. But the people who are worth reading are usually people who have an ear to something few others are listening to. You don’t have to be a genius to make something truly good. You mostly just have to pay attention. 

Author: Samuel D. James

Believer, husband, father, acquisitions editor, writer.

2 thoughts on “A quick piece of writing advice”

  1. I’ve just jumped into the blogging world…mainly to have a place to write and the possibility to share. Even though I have a very small audience, I already feel the temptation to write more quickly than I can think (or observe). These are wise words! Thank you!

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