The Key to Good Style

I have so enjoyed Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style.

If you are writing books or sermons, blogs or lesson plans, you will greatly benefit from his thoughts on good communication.

One particularly poignant section captures the secret to good style in a simple metaphor. Pinker writes:

The guiding metaphor of classic style is seeing the world. The writer can see something that the reader has not yet noticed, and he orients the reader’s gaze so that she can see it for herself. The purpose of writing is presentation, and its motive is distinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns language with the truth, the proof of success being clarity and simplicity. The truth can be known, and is not the same as the language that reveals it; prose is a window onto the world. The writer knows the truth before putting it into words; he is not using the occasion of writing to sort out what he thinks. Nor does the writer of classic prose have to argue for the truth; he just needs to present it. That is because the reader is competent and can recognize the truth when she sees it, as long as she is given an unobstructed view. The writer and the reader are equals, and the process of directing the reader’s gaze takes the form of a conversation. (p. 29)

I love the imagery Pinker provides. A good writer simply leads the reader to the window and shows him something hitherto unseen.

Come with me. Do you see that tree? Good. Now, go up to the third branch from the bottom. Look to the end of that branch and you will notice a little red bird. That is a cardinal.

This kind of plain, conversational leading is good communication in a nutshell.

Pinker, S. (2014). The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. New York, New York: Viking.

In the World

Why write in public?

Blogging seems like a strange thing to some. A playground for ranters and trolls. A pool for Narcissus.

But I blog for the same reason I jog down the sidewalk on our busy street: I want to be in the world. You and I were made to be in this world, alive to wonder and in community. (And the two typically go together).

A treadmill in the basement provides a certain kind of amusement. But running under open skies with all the mishaps of rocks and rain and the occasional honk makes for an adventure no air conditioned room can replicate. I want to be in the world, where skies scream His name and people reflect a deeper image though dimly.

To be in the world means forsaking hearth side and home. It requires risk. But it yields some of our best moments and our brightest memories.

If I had to guess, I would say your best moments were moments in the world, too. You at last said what you were thinking. You prayed with a friend. You entered your art in a contest. You finished a race. You made the trip and saw it with your own eyes. You were in the world. That moment costed you time or money or privacy. But you found something on the other side, something you could never find inside.

So I write in the world. Where else would I write? Or run? Or live?

What about you? What do you need to do in the world? A bike ride in the sun? A workout in the gym? Go to the game? Time in the library? A word in season?

Halfway Through

Halfway through posting 30 posts for 30 days, I realize one thing in particular: I enjoy the unknown and borderline selfish posts the most. They are the easiest and most interesting to write. They are the most life-giving to write.

There’s something unique and even magical about sitting down to write the unknown. No outline. No plan. No “so what.” Just write what’s in your head.

By having the audacious goal of 30 for 30 posts, I have found myself groping for posts. When I wrote less, I could afford to be perfectionistic. I could afford to be polished and product-centered. But the relentless task of daily posts forces me to be process-centered. Just get the writing done. Hit “publish.” Keep going.

And here’s what’s crazy. Some of the posts I thought were just for me ended up being the posts that resonated the most with others. On the flipside, some of the posts I thought were a slick product made very little impact.

These are the finds daily bloggers swear by. This is why the tried and true bloggers always say keep writing and keep posting. It seems there’s no shortcut. Just lots of writing and trying, and somewhere in the mix you find your way.

Start a Blog

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I think you should start a blog. Yes, you!

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Not me. I’m not a writer. I’m not a techie. I wouldn’t know where to start.”

But blogging is not some obscure art, and it’s actually quite easy.

Listen. It’s not for hipsters. It’s not for geeks. Blogging is for everyone. It’s for you. And in my opinion, blogging is particularly great for Christians.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

Continue reading Start a Blog

Encouragement for Writers

The Writing Life by Annie DillardI enjoy writing. I like words, and I like sentences. I even appreciate grammar. But none of that earnest means I will produce good writing. Good writing is just plain difficult to do.

The other day I was re-reading my favorite pure prose writer, Annie Dillard, and she reminded me of the monumental task that is writing, just how difficult a few good sentences can be to find. Considering the average production rate of various published authors, Dillard observes:

Continue reading Encouragement for Writers