In recent days, I’ve seen two excellent posts on writing better from David Gunderson and Charles Spurgeon, via Lucid Books. I also came across a helpful list of ways to write more from Samuel Miller, one of the founding professors of Princeton Seminary.
Since writing is something I do and try to improve, I found these three lists helpful. I share them here for others to consider their content and apply their wisdom. If you know of other lists, please feel to add them in the comments.
Seven Tips on Writing from Charles Spurgeon
Charles Spurgeon is a witty and wise writer and the folks at Lucid Books have collected seven helpful tips from him. They list them under seven headings, with quotes about each. His seven tips include:
- Write to Help others
- Write Short
- Write for God
- Write Clearly
- Write to Compel
- Write, Write, & Write
- Read to Write
The most important of these tips is certainly related to God and the good of others, but for me I find Spurgeon’s counsel pertaining to length most applicable.
Long visits, long stories, long essays, long exhortations, and long prayers, seldom profit those who have to do with them. Life is short. Time is short.…Moments are precious. Learn to condense, abridge, and intensify…In making a statement, lop off branches; stick to the main facts in your case. If you pray, ask for what you believe you will receive, and get through; if you speak, tell your message and hold your peace; if you write, boil down two sentences into one, and three words into two. Always when practicable avoid lengthiness — learn to be short” (Sword & Trowel, September 1871).
You can read more from Spurgeon here.
Twenty-five Tips on Writing from David “Gunner” Gunderson
From his experience as a seminary professor, Gunner lists 25 punchy maxims about writing. I’d love to expand on them, but applying Spurgeon’s counsel, I’ll just like the five that most help me.
2. When citing research, choose interaction over quotation.
7. Don’t write as though everyone agrees with you.
13. We don’t want a pile of meat. We want a sandwich. So give us an introduction and an overview, a summary and a conclusion.
18. Every sentence builds or erodes trust.
25. Now go say something beautiful beautifully.
Clearly, writing is more than just conveying information; it is moving people with literary grace and rhetorical truth. Gunner gets this and his 25 tips will you help you get it too.
Samuel Miller was one of the two founding faculty of Princeton Seminary and a prolific writer. Commenting on his strategies for writing, he wrote in his journal six practical ways to write more.
1. I do not allow myself to be hurried; or to press my health, strength or spirits beyond what they will bear, by writing at late hours, or by overstrained exertion at any one time. I am very much of the mind of the old Quaker, who, when a traveller on the same road overtook him, seemed to be pressing forward in great haste, and asked with much apparent eagerness, how soon he could reach a certain town, thirty or forty miles ahead, significantly replied, “Thou mayest get there by sunset, if thou wilt go slow enough.’ The inquirer pressed on, leaving the prudent Quaker to jog along at a slow, but regular, rate. Several hours before sunset, the Quaker overtook his impatient fellow-traveller, some miles short of the town to which he was going, greatly fatigued himself, and his horse fairly fagged out. The Quaker passed him, and reached the same town with ease before the sun went down—all because he had travelled slowly but regularly. I am persuaded that, in every sort of labor, the old Latin maxim, Festina lente [make haste slowly], is of exceeding great importance.
2. I have been, for many years, in the habit of going to bed early. I wish always to be in bed a little after ten o’clock, certainly before eleven. Sitting up late, and studying much by candle light, are very destructive to health, and, ultimately, retard, rather than promote, literary labor.
3 I make a point of rising very early: in winter, an hour before day, making my own fire, and getting ready for work, before I can be interrupted by company, etc.; and, in summer, soon after sunrise. This is very important to him who would do much.
4. I try to improve every fragment of time; and although my interruptions are incessant, yet I am so happy as to be able, after an interruption, to take up a subject where I left it, without much loss of time in going back to find the clew. This has long been of great use to me, and made my fragments of time more precious.
5. Whenever I have been compelled to make an extra effort, in the way of studying or writing, I have found incalculable advantage in going through it fasting, or, at least, eating very little. In these circumstances my mental operations are always more active and successful; and I, of course, suffer much less from mental application, and from want of exercise, than if I ate as usual.
6. I must do honor to divine aid. I have always found, that the more I acknowledged God, in my studies, the more comfortably and successfully they proceeded.
— Cited by David Calhoun, Princeton Seminary: Faith and Learning (1812–1868), 1:182–83.
Obviously, these “rules” are not absolute, as many prolific writers work late into the night. That said, many late-night writers have admitted that such a practice has injured their health, perhaps even stealing life from which to write more. Still, whether early or late, writers must either find time at the beginning or end of the day to write effectively.
All in all, Miller’s final point is the most salient. Those who write well and write much are exercising the gifts that God gives. These are gifts we should hone, but ultimately, they are gifts from God. And as such, we must not envy or blindly imitate others. Rather, we should learn from them and through much trial and error, learn to find our own voice.
Let Us Write for the Glory God
To that end, may we write for the glory of God and the edification of others. And in that pursuit, may we learn a thing or two about writing and pass it on to others. Hence this blogpost.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds