Blog Writing Tips Blog
“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you.” - Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Whether you grew up with a book always in tow or you only recently fell in love with reading, we can all agree that books are an important part of learning, dreaming, and doing. Why is it, then, that picking up a book can be so difficult? How many times have you claimed to be an avid reader, but when someone asks what you’re currently in the middle of, you blush and say, “Oh I haven’t had much time for it recently, what with work and...” Yet that night you watch the seconds count down till the next episode begins or scroll down your newsfeed for the hundredth time. Perhaps we shy away from a book and reach for the remote - or phone or computer - due to the emotional commitment that is required when reading something.
Whatever it is, it’s time to take back the reins and commit to reading. Commit to the books on your shelf waiting to be dusted off. Commit to the titles you’ve yet to discover. Commit to the authors you consider yourself to be a fan of, but have only read half of one of their books. Commit to your claim to be a lifelong reader.
Inspired by Austin Kleon’s https://medium.com/show-your-work/33-thoughts-on-reading-9fa9dd2be07c
We don’t have to tell you that the digital world we live in doesn’t lend itself well to reading books. Especially good books. You know those. The type that you have to chew on slowly. That sometimes require a dictionary or even a concordance. The books that hold weight and substance. The books that make a lasting change in your life.
Instead, we consume tweets, Instagram quotes, 700-word blog posts (like this!), easy reading self-help books, and beguiling fiction that are offered to us in a limitless buffet.
Laura Miller of Slate describes the trend this way:
Books are the intellectual equivalent of slow food; you know it’s better for you and tastes better, too, but you’re too rushed and frantic to care as you white-knuckle it through an avalanche of push alerts.
If we aren’t proactive, we may find those “slow food” books harder and harder to read and easier and easier to neglect.
As you can imagine, we find this trend disturbing for the general population. However, we find it exceptionally disturbing when writers only consume that which is easy. There is a tremendous benefit in doing the work of reading well. And yes, it can be work. Choosing C.S. Lewis over Danielle Steele is tough. Picking up Chesterton instead of the latest Fox News host’s release is hard. However, we believe you will see the benefit—not only in the knowledge you will gain—but in your writing as well.
Karen Swallow Prior, an English professor at Liberty University in Virginia, recently authored On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books, a book extolling the virtues of… well… reading well. In a recent interview with Christianity Today, Mrs. Prior explains how choosing good books can actually cultivate virtue in our lives:
Reading good literature well is in itself a practice of virtue. Literary art—as opposed to words strung together to communicate facts and information—requires the exercise of the imagination, the practice of patience, the delay of gratification, and the sustaining of attention and intellectual rigor.
These are all activities that build character in ways in which mindlessly scrolling through a Twitter or Facebook timeline cannot. So simply the way we read literature in contrast to other kinds of reading cultivates virtue. Additionally, what we read contributes to virtue when we read timeless works that convey universal human experiences that transcend time, place, and social position.
In the book, I show how we can learn about diligence from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, patience from Jane Austen’s Persuasion, justice from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities—and much more.
So why does good reading create good writing? Here are 3 ways:
Raise your hand if you took music lessons as a kid. Now, thinking back to the early years of lessons, how often did your instructor ask you to compose your own piece of music? Probably never, right? Instead, you were given the great pieces of music to learn, practice, and eventually master. If you did reach the level of creating your own work, you were only able to do so because of the time you had spent with these great compositions.
Reading good writers has the same effect. We notice the vocabulary choices, the way the narrative is structured, how the emotions are evoked. And often these observations happen almost unconsciously (lest you think you must now read with a notebook and pen at the ready to take notes). No. As you ingest quality writing, your own work will naturally begin to imitate it.
No matter how hard you try, your book can only contain as much perspective as you possess as the author. It’s hard to write about public education if you were homeschooled or to write about the vegetarian lifestyle if bacon is your best friend. Good reading is a great way to broaden your horizons and “experience” life through the eyes of others. What is public education really like? How is it different than the stereotypes you may hold? What really motivates the vegetarian to choose that lifestyle? Reading opens the door on cultures, lifestyles, socio-economic situations, and upbringings, allowing you to write with confidence and clarity on these subjects.
Most of us have struggled through the first few weeks of a diet, as our body adjusts to healthier food and detoxes from the junk it is sorely missing. But then we reach the other side where we think, “I feel so much better! Why didn’t I do this a long time ago?”
Why do we feel better? Because our bodies are now being fueled instead of stymied. We are giving our system what it needs to perform at top efficiency.
Reading well does the same for our writing minds. It brings us back to what is true, virtuous and timeless. Karen Swallow Prior advises:
It is the challenge [of good books] that makes reading them so rewarding. They do more than kill time or amuse for a few moments. The best books linger in our minds and souls for days or even years.
For a while we may miss the hot takes and Facebook posts that used to occupy our reading time, but it won’t be long until we find our minds stimulated and our pens inspired.
At Certa Publishing, we want nothing more than to see our writers stimulated and inspired. How can we help you? Contact us today.
Writer’s block happens to the best of writers. While there are plenty of traditional ways to deal with it, we thought we’d focus on a few you might not have thought of. In fact, we were inspired by Dennis Upper, a psychologist from the 1970’s, who managed his writer’s block by submitting a practically empty academic paper to the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, who then published it, if only for its comedic value. We appreciated the reviewer comments in the footnote, which read:
Who knew that even learned psychologists suffered from writer’s block (or that academic publication editors had such a sense of humor?)
While we don’t advise that you submit an empty manuscript to your publisher, we have brought together a few ideas that might help.
Paint a room. Mow the yard. Take a shower. Weed the garden. Pick any task that you can do without much mental focus. You’ll be amazed at how well your thoughts flow during this time. In fact, this is why “Shower Thoughts” has an entire subreddit, where members can post the epiphanies they have while bathing.
But there is one condition. This task mustn’t involve screens of any kind. Your brain needs the space to wander without the “blinging” of notifications or temptation to check the score of the game.
Stop writing and start reading. (Hey, that sounds a lot like the title of our recent blog post!) Yes, a great way to get past writer’s block is to stop writing and read someone else’s work. Which authors do you most want to emulate? Pick up a copy of their work. Read just enough that you are reminded of their style, syntax, flow, and timing. This exercise will inspire you and perhaps remind you of what you are working towards.
When you were first inspired to write your book, who did you tell? Was it your mom, a co-worker or best friend? Who did you sit down with and gush out your story idea to? Who did you first confide in that you were going to embark on this crazy journey of writing? Call that person. Ask them to remind you of what you said in those moments.
Hearing your own words and thoughts from someone else can be very enlightening. You’ll be surprised how much the work of writing has caused you to forget the why of writing.
Dig up your old journals. Find those ancient blog posts. Re-read emails you’ve sent (well, the long, letter-type ones). As you do this, pay attention to what you like about your writing. Perhaps it is your conversational style. Or maybe you’re witty in just the right places, or you have a way with a story.
Whatever it is that you like about your own writing, try it out in your current work. Look for ways to be more conversational or witty or narrative. Let your own strengths pull their weight.
Sounds a bit painful, doesn’t it? Well, never fear. This one is simple. So simple that it works. Just take a piece of paper and write your topic in the center (the topic that you are struggling to write about). Then as fast as you can, surround that topic with everything you can think of about it, no matter how mundane or ridiculous.
For example, if the topic is childhood sleep habits, your surrounding words might include:
Now that you have these sub-topics on the paper, you can begin surrounding each of them with their own associations, and so on and so forth.
While you may not write about everything you put on your mind map, it is a great way of quickly getting scattered ideas out of your head and onto paper.
Of course there are apps that do this as well. The Sweet Setup recently posted about several apps that might be helpful and they also have a great example on their page.
At Certa Publishing, we understand that writers get stuck. We love to talk on the phone, grab coffee, or Skype to help get your pen flowing or your keyboard clicking away again. Contact us today to see how we can help.
If we asked you why pastors should not write books, you could probably quickly rattle off some reasons. Distractions, temptation to seek fame, etc. However, have you considered why pastors should write? This was the very theme of a recent Gospel Coalition interview with pastor and author Anthony Carter, which we have excerpted here:
It’s no secret: pastors like books. We read them, we quote them, we give them away. After all, the foundation for our entire ministry is the written Word of God himself. Take away that book and we have no ministry.
But what about the writing of books? How should pastors think about putting words on paper for publication? Anthony Carter, lead pastor of East Point Church in Georgia, has written, co-authored, and contributed to a number of books, including most recently Blood Work. Carter warns against the desire for attention and the distraction that writing can take away from pastoral ministry but also encourages pastors to pursue writing and publishing if they can.
Should a pastor write? Is writing a valid part of pastoral ministry, or does it distract us from the people we’re called to care for?
All pastors are writers. For me, writing is just an extension of preaching ministry. Every week I write a sermon. All preachers do. Whether you write a full manuscript during sermon preparation or not, writing is indispensable to good preaching. Therefore, it is not a distraction; it is what all preachers do. Nevertheless, if the pastor pursues it apart from the pastoral ministry, then it could be a distraction and become a source of pride.
A young pastor comes to you wanting to be a published writer. What advice do you give him? How should a pastor evaluate and pursue a call to write?
All pastors should seek to get published. The process of writing and being published is a great learning experience. It causes you to think about how you communicate outside of sermonic sound bites and gives you another venue through which you can communicate to the congregation. So I would encourage the young pastor to write.
However, I would caution him against thinking more highly of his writing than he should. As I said, consider writing as an extension of the pastoral calling, and be contented if no one but people in your local congregation read your book. After all, you have been called to the local flock, not the world. If my congregation reads and is encouraged by what I write, I should consider myself blessed.
Writing for publication brings a measure of national attention. How does a published pastor resist temptations to pride and cultivate humility?
Actually, most books get published with little to no national attention. If you write for national attention, you are writing for the wrong reasons. I would encourage any pastor to remember and take to heart this sobering reality: Most people won’t even know that you have published a book, and the rest won’t care.
In his book Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue, Andreas Köstenberger says, “Writing never just happens. If you are called to write, you must actively plan for it and doggedly persevere in it.” Take us into your writing routine. How do you actively plan for and doggedly persevere in the writing task?
I write sermons practically every week. This is the bulk of my writing, and where my writing is primarily concentrated. Writing books or blogs is more a fruit of the preaching ministry than anything else. Consequently, I plan my writing like I plan my sermons. First, I start with an idea that grabs my attention. If I am not interested in what I am writing, I doubt others will be either. Second, I outline my thoughts with the end in mind. What do I want people to take away from this article or book? Then I develop the outline seeking to get myself, and subsequently my readers, to that end. Third, I set aside time where I can spend on the deliberate exercise of writing. Like anything else, writing takes discipline. Discipline is time and effort.
Are there any practices or disciplines that have helped you develop skill as a writer?
I don’t know how much skill I have as a writer. I am sure many would say not much, and I would tend to agree. However, I find that I write better when I read good writing. Good reading is the best discipline I know for being a good writer. In fact, when I read good writers, it does two things: one, I am reminded of how weak my writing is and, two, I am encouraged to try and write better.
What do you think? Do you agree with Pastor Carter’s thoughts on the subject? Comment below to let us know.
At Certa Publishing, we have helped many, many pastors become authors. In fact, we would consider this one of our specialties. Contact us today to find out how to get started on your writing journey.