It has been my great pleasure to contribute to Keep The Faith for a number of years, as the Bible says: ‘For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope’ (Romans 15:4 ESV).
I have been asked several times for advice on how to write effectively, and would like to share some tips with you in this issue. My intention is to take you on a writing process journey, from originating ideas through writing drafts and finally to editing your document.
First things first:
- Know why you are writing. Ask some basic questions about your writing task before you start; think about your reasons for writing, and what you are going to produce.
Think about these questions:
- Why am I writing this?
- What do I want to achieve?
- Who am I writing for?
- What do I want people to think, feel, know or do after they have read it?
- What would be the best form for it to be written in? An article, a book, etc.
Answering these questions will help you to be clearer and quicker in your writing process.
- Getting started doesn’t have to be from a blank page. Start by unlocking your creativity and ideas by:
- thinking, talking and reading about your topic before you even attempt a first draft
- keeping a journal for jotting down thoughts
- free-writing, especially to get you started. Free-writing has many uses, because you write only for yourself, it helps you to build confidence, unlock creativity, get rid of your internal censor, capture your first thoughts, get a flow going and remove writing blocks.
- Research your topic. When you are writing about a topic you know well, you will probably be able to write fairly quickly and easily. But, whether you know your topic well or not, it is always important to ask whether you need to do some research to strengthen the quality of your work. Research can be quick and easy to do, stimulating and fun.
- Consider the people who will read what you have written; they are probably the most important part of your pre-writing thinking. These reader-orientated strategies can help you to shift people’s opinion in favour of your argument:
- Respect the other person’s point of view.
- Put yourself in their shoes, and try to see things through their eyes. This will help you to understand them.
- Consider the attitudes and perspectives your reader already holds.
- Offer correct factual information.
- Be honest.
- It is time to write an outline when you have become clear about what you want to write about, and have organised your thoughts.
- Making an argument. A fair amount of our writing involves writing to change something – attitudes, behaviour or beliefs.
- Editing is something a writer should do for him or herself, before handing over to someone else. This way, you have more control over your writing.
- Conclusions. Many of us were trained at school to use a conclusion to repeat what we have said earlier in the piece of writing. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it is boring for the reader. Feel free to use your concluding section, amongst others, to:
- look at the way forward
- make recommendations
Final tips on writing
Each time you sit down to write it is different, so be prayerful and mindful of your most conducive environment.
- Don’t get stuck in a style – use different styles of writing for different projects.
- You get good at writing by practising.
- Writing every day or often, like in your journal, gives you practice.
- Create an environment around you to help you think freely.
- Spoil yourself when you write – choose a favourite pen or pencil. Sit in your favourite place.
- Relax into writing.
- Write first, ‘internal censor’ later. Creative, rough and wild ideas first, grammar later.
- Talk is the exercise ground for writing. It is a way we learn about communication, what makes people interested, and what makes them bored.
- Try to read a lot: newspapers, magazines, Bible, non-fiction and research papers. Pick up on writing styles you like. This helps you to develop your own style.
- When you have to write, you have to write. Don’t start moving your desk around and doing all your filing, when it is your time to write. You can write with chaos around you by creating your own peaceful oasis in your mind.
Words have special significance in the Christian tradition. The Bible is ’the Word’, and God wrote His laws on stone. The words of Christian writers are full of power and spiritual life, and it is important that reverence is given to the Bible as the ultimate point of reference.
I hope that this will help you to write more effectively in your personal lives and impact those who read your writings. Remember, the most important time to pray is before, during and after you write.
Rev Stephen Brooks