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I am not sure forceful writing is something all of us strive for. But I do believe many of us would like to know how to add impetus to the words we write.

How do we write with overwhelming influence on our readers, on our culture? I have thought a great deal about this and I think I have some things to say about writing forcefully. However, before I begin I suppose I should grant you a disclaimer. My books are not, nor are they likely to be, on the New York Times best-seller list. My writing is hardly shaking the world. My lack of authority on this issue opens these suggestions up for discussion. What do you think about each of them? I suspect all of us thinking about our writing, would come up with some principles that could transform our writing and possibly the lives of our readers.

Let me begin with my oldest principle.

Brevity is Force.

Especially for young writers, this may sound counterintuitive. “You are saying, 'The less I write, the greater the impact,?’” Well, that is close to what I am suggesting. I am saying, “Expressing the same thought in fewer words will say it better.” I have a friend who is a riveting preacher. His exposition is brilliant, his illustrations are moving, his logic is cogent and often humorous. But it often takes him over an hour to preach one of them. I have been in some places in the world where that would be ideal, but he does not preach in any of those places. The length of his sermons takes much of the force out of what he has to say. This is every bit as true of writing as it is of speaking.

Clarity is Force.

Most of us would like our writing to be impressive. I remember a comic scene on the old Lou Grant show where someone found an article written 30 years before by their managing editor, Charlie Hume, when he was a cub reporter. The byline on the article read “F. Charles Hume.” He defended himself by saying, “All of us have been pretentious from time to time.” When one of the other characters asked him what the F stood for, he answered, “Nothing, unless you count F. Scott Fitzgerald.” It is always tempting to use big words and try to sound impressive. But the main issue of writing is clear communication. One of the passages of Scripture God has used to speak to me about my writing over the years is Habakkuk 2:1-3. Verse 2 calls us to “write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets.” Great writing is always understandable. A good writer makes what may be complicated plain for people to understand.

I am intimidated by the next of these.

Beauty is Force.

I never feel like my writing can be beautiful. And, indeed, I'm no C.S. Lewis. But writing is an art as well as a craft. Beautiful writing will affect people's lives. Most of us have a sense of beauty when we see it on a printed page. And while I will never be C.S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, or Philip Yancey, I can read such authors in the hope that their beauty will rub off. And I can strive to improve the beauty of what I have to say and how I write it.

Truth is Force.

I'm not sure this is not the most important of these principles. One of the best writing prompts I have ever seen, especially for poetry, says, “Write the truest sentence that you know.” I am writing primarily to Christian writers. You actually have an advantage over others in this area because you have a grip on ultimate truth.

Conviction is Force.

You need to know why you believe what you believe is true. A good writer is a clear thinker. A good writer is always asking why. You will spend time thinking through things until you come to a bedrock of conviction. A good writer knows what she thinks and why she thinks it, what she knows and how she knows it, what she believes and why she believes it.

Compassion is Force.

Good writers care about their readers. Christian writers pray for the needs of people who will read their work. The importance of what you have to say relates directly to the needs, sometimes the deepest needs, of those for whom you are writing.

God's Moving is Force.

The most life-changing force in writing is the hand of God on your words. At this point I'm talking about something that goes far beyond your craft. The hand of God on your writing flows from the depth of your relationship with God, and the effect He has on all of your life. I believe this is true whether you are writing a devotional book, a theological treatise, or a baseball story. What God is doing in your life we'll impact the lives of your readers.

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Comment by David Young on Friday

That is great insight, Andrew. I often think of my writing as prayer. And while beauty should not be a goal of our prayers, we are assured that they are beautiful to our Heavenly Father. And true beauty both in writing a prayer is much deeper than form.

Comment by Andrew R. Wheeler on July 7, 2018 at 4:34pm

I left out "beauty" intentionally, because I think that if we're trying to pray beautiful prayers, we're too focused on the form and not on the heart.  If we pray according to the other items in your list, our prayers will naturally be beautiful.

Comment by Andrew R. Wheeler on July 7, 2018 at 4:33pm

Dave,

In reading back over your post again, I'm struck by how many of the items you mentioned also apply to prayer, especially prayer in a group setting.  For example:

  • Brevity:  With the exception of the prayer in John 17, all of Jesus' prayers were extremely brief.  Connecting with God isn't a matter of multiplying words - Jesus even said as much in Matthew 6 in his introduction to the Lord's Prayer.
  • Clarity:  How many times have we prayed in a group setting where someone is just wandering from topic to topic without any clear direction?  Brevity and clarity in prayer are actually very closely related.
  • Truth:  Praying according to the truth of God's word (rather than praying our own agendas) is key to any sort of unity in prayer and also to honoring God in our prayers.  As an example, I know that it's God's will to raise up righteous leaders with servant hearts, and I can easily pray for that - but praying for a specific candidate to get elected inserts my agenda into the prayer.
  • Conviction:  I'm convinced that conviction forms the basis of kingdom-focused prayers - prayers for things like the unreached peoples, the persecuted church, refugees, etc.  It's the conviction that God wants to do something in their lives and for the advancement of his kingdom that motivates us to keep praying (even if we don't always see immediate results).
  • Compassion:  Similar to conviction, I think that having Jesus' compassion - especially for the lost - forms a foundation for our prayers.  Compassion and conviction keep our prayers from being all about ourselves and help us to focus on God's will, his kingdom, and other people.
  • God's moving:  Faith that God is hearing and answering (even if not in the ways or forms we expected) keeps us praying - both for ourselves and for others.
  • Audience:  And yes, especially in group prayer - remembering that the Audience is God Himself (not others in the group) can keep us from prayers that are flowery and designed to impress, agenda-based prayers, prayers full of information (that God already knows), etc.
Comment by David Young on July 6, 2018 at 10:05pm

Excellent, Andrew!

I agree. And I need to add this to my list. 

Dave

Comment by Andrew R. Wheeler on July 6, 2018 at 7:15pm

Great thoughts, Dave!  If I were to be so bold as to add one, it would be:

Audience Focus is Force.

The most common mistake I see in new writers (and I count myself in this category) is that our writing is all about ourselves, what we want to say, what we think is important, what we've experienced, etc.  This is especially true of memoir, which is one of the hardest genres to write well.

When God gave messages to his prophets, the messages were not for or about the prophets.  They were for the people.  When he gives us a message, it's not about us - it's about the people whose lives he is calling us to impact for his kingdom.  As we focus prayerfully on their needs in our writing, we are better enabled to impact others' lives.

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