5 Essential Principles for Christian Writers
I look at your writing every day.
Well, not exactly your writing but writing like yours. I have written 42 books (so far), and several hundred blog posts and video scripts each year. But I see work like yours in my role as both a Developmental and Copy editor. Almost all Christian writers are missing important writing techniques and it reflects poorly on their work.
You can revolutionize your writing by adopting five essential techniques. They are simple on the surface but require effort to consistently apply them. You can do it.
Most writers want to learn and grow. These techniques will help accelerate the process.
1. Have Something to Say
“God told me to write this book.”
That comment always makes me nervous. It’s not that I don’t believe it can happen, but that many unhinged people also say “God told me to….” to justify unimaginable crimes. Also, based on my experience, “God told me” books are often poorly written. Does God tell Christians to write books that are inferior in thought and execution?
Another common element of these “God told me” books is that people tend to write out of their angst rather than their joy. They write about their depression or abuse under the guise of “helping others.” However, they seem to be doing little more than spreading their own pain.
If people wrote one chapter about their agony, and fourteen other chapters about their joy, they would have more credibility. “God told me” books like this seem narcissistic, and you see that when you read a lot of them.
The Bible has a different perspective.
Christians have a commission to write, and it’s found in Matthew 28:19-20. We are to “go” with our writing, and our mission is to “teach.” That applies to both fiction and nonfiction. Our purpose is not to feed our narcissism under the guise of helping others. Our purpose is to “teach them to obey all Jesus commanded.” That requires a major shift in thinking for most aspiring Christian writers.
Even though he was not a Christ-follower, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald nailed the concept. He said, “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” Christians, above all people, have something to say.
Don’t focus on your problems because everyone has them. Instead, offer Christ-centered solutions to problems.
2. Organize Your Thoughts Before You Write
“Ready, Fire, Aim!”
Is that how the old saying goes? No, we all should be aiming before we fire. For writers, this means we must organize our thoughts before we write. If you think ideas will come to you by Divine Inspiration in the instant you touch your keyboard, then you are falsely putting yourself on the same level as Luke, Paul, Peter and other Bible writers.
You are not writing under Divine Inspiration. If that were the case, your book would have the same status as the Old and New Testaments. At best, when you are in touch with the Lord as you write, you are writing under Divine Illumination.
Divine Illumination is processing divine ideas and translating literature that engages readers. That’s why you need to organize your thoughts before you write.
The metaphor of “translating” God’s ideas for living into fiction and nonfiction books is a good one.
Years ago, I worked as a technical writer. It was my job to absorb complex engineering data and translate it into information that consumers could understand. I interviewed engineers, marketing people, and end-users. After listening to them all I was able to write easy-to-understand manuals.
My role as a writer was taking people on a journey from the unknown to the known. I was illuminating their understanding. I organized complex information, so it was accessible to a wide audience.
All Christian writers are in this type of “translation” business. We all need to curate the best ideas worth sharing and deliver them in an organized way.
3. Write More than You Know
The old, tired cliché among writers is, “Write what you know.”
That is the fast track to failure, in my view. That is precisely why so much writing, particularly Christian writing, is self-indulgent and of mediocre quality. You want to start with what you know, but you must write more than you know. Good writing, both fiction and nonfiction, is far more than expressing your feelings. It is a mix of that, along with a hefty dose of rational thought.
The key to writing more than you know is doing research. Christian writers must expand beyond their perceptions and opinions and explore the experience and thinking of others. The internet makes formal research using credible sources more effortless than ever, including interviewing experts and others over Zoom.
Why do so many Christian writers fail to stretch themselves and write more than they already know? Based on my experience, I believe it is due to inexperience or laziness.
4. Write Now and Revise Later
God is perfect.
If we try to be perfect, then we are trying to become God. Seeking perfectionism as humans is a disease, not a cure. That’s why I love the statement by football coach Vince Lombardi. He said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” Perfectionistic tendencies by writers smother creativity.
We see these unwholesome tendencies in two areas. One is people who go overboard and become “grammar nazis.” Spelling and grammar are important, but the tail should never wag the dog, and a person who delights in pointing out flaws in reviews and comments probably has deep emotional issues.
The other area is far more significant. Perfectionists insist on writing and revising at the same time.
Serious writers delight in getting into a creative flow.
That “groove” is the sweet spot we all want to achieve. Words cascade from our minds onto the page. It is pure joy. However, people who revise as they write cannot enter that state because their perfectionism disrupts the symphony of creativity.
It is important to write without stopping when you are in the groove. Only revise (or edit) after you have completed an entire chapter, or better yet, when you have completed your entire first draft. Your finished first draft is clay on a potter’s wheel, and you shape it into something beautiful in the independent revision process.
You want to get into the habit of writing now and revising later. That is an essential technique for successful writing.
5. Inject Your Personal Energy
Your personal energy is what makes your writing unique.
Think about it. Most books, fiction and nonfiction, follow the same tropes. The structure of books in various genres is predictable. One Christian romance novel or self-help book is pretty much like the others in the same category, so what will make your book stand out?
It is your personal energy. Jesus Christ transformed your life, and the essence of that spiritual transaction was that God filled you with his Spirit. That changes everything.
Your book will be different from all others because your education and experience become infused with Holy Spirit power. As a result, your personal energy takes on an entirely new dimension.
People will buy your book and tell others about it when you express your unique personal energy in your book.
The ultimate goal as a writer is to engage your audience and honor the Lord as you do it. You can do that when you use these five essential writing techniques.