The Humility of C. S. Lewis’ Writing

Good word from Gavin Ortlund on the humility of C.S. Lewis’ writing. Some money quotes:

• “It is not that Lewis lacks learning, but that he finds a way to hide his learning in order to help the reader.”

• “To write clearly is a matter of one’s character even more than one’s brain: it stems from being good more than from being smart. Virtues like charity and humility . . . shape and restrain and reorganize our writing towards clarity and accessibility because they value the edification of the reader above the reputation of the writer.”

Read the entire post here.


Anne Lamott on Writing First Drafts

Good reminder for writers from Anne Lamott:

birdbybird“For me, and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really sh***y first drafts. . . .

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”

(HT: Matthew J. Hall)

Real Men Journal, Too

Over at the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood blog I share seven reasons why men should keep journals.

*     *     *     *     *

A glance through history reveals many men who kept journals: Ludwig van Beethoven, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Madison, Captain Cook, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan. Some notable Christians include Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Andrew Bonar, David Brainerd and, in our own day, John Piper. As I reflect on journaling, there are seven reasons why men should journal.

(1) to keep a record of life’s journey;
(2) to have a tangible account of God’s blessings;
(3) to serve as a reminder of the long-term sanctification process;
(4) to aid in prayer and meditation;
(5) to practice the writing craft;
(6) to keep a collection of odds and ends; and
(7) to be an enduring gift to posterity.

I expand on each of these, then offer a warning and encouragement. Read the rest here.


Marilynne Robinson on Writing

p19_robinson-1-Marilynne Robinson on writing: 

“[T]he thing about writing is that you find out more about your mind, in a sense, than you would find out by any other means. You find out where your imagination lives, and what your favourite words are, and what kinds of things have an emotional charge that you would not anticipate they would have. You find out that you have an incredible store of memory that you would not otherwise access. And so you have the feeling of being a much larger life, in a way, than you would have known you were if you had not written.”

HT: A Minister of the Word, Church Times

“The Country of Marriage” by Wendell Berry








“The Country of Marriage”


I dream of you walking at night along the streams
of the country of my birth, warm blooms and the nightsongs
of birds opening around you as you walk.
You are holding in your body the dark seed of my sleep.


This comes after silence. Was it something I said
that bound me to you, some mere promise
or, worse, the fear of loneliness and death?
A man lost in the woods in the dark, I stood
still and said nothing. And then there rose in me,
like the earth’s empowering brew rising
in root and branch, the words of a dream of you
I did not know I had dreamed. I was a wanderer
who feels the solace of his native land
under his feet again and moving in his blood.
I went on, blind and faithful. Where I stepped
my track was there to steady me. It was no abyss
that lay before me, but only the level ground.


Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.


How many times have I come to you out of my head
with joy, if ever a man was,
for to approach you I have given up the light
and all directions. I come to you
lost, wholly trusting as a man who goes
into the forest unarmed. It is as though I descend
slowly earthward out of the air. I rest in peace
in you, when I arrive at last.


Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
of my love and work for yours, so much for so much
of an expendable fund. We don’t know what its limits are–
that puts us in the dark. We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.
Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing
a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only
accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light
enough to live, and then accepts the dark,
passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I
have fallen tine and again from the great strength
of my desire, helpless, into your arms.


What I am learning to give you is my death
to set you free of me, and me from myself
into the dark and the new light. Like the water
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.


I give you what is unbounded, passing from dark to dark,
containing darkness: a night of rain, an early morning.
I give you the life I have let live for the love of you:
a clump of orange-blooming weeds beside the road,
the young orchard waiting in the snow, our own life
that we have planted in the ground, as I
have planted mine in you. I give you my love for all
beautiful and honest women that you gather to yourself
again and again, and satisfy–and this poem,
no more mine than any man’s who has loved a woman.

– Wendell Berry in The Country of Marriage: Poems

A Dash of Style — Book Recommendation for Better Writing

Anyone who wants to become a better writer will love this book by Noah Lukeman — A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006). It is beautifully written, engaging, helpful, and concise. Punctuation is not so much a science as it is an art. Each decision is relative, but that doesn’t mean it’s thoughtless — at least it doesn’t have to be.

Here’s a taste from the Introduction (pp. 13-14):

Image“This book will offer a fresh look at punctuation: as an art form. Punctuation is often discussed as a convenience, as a way of facilitating what you want to say. Rarely is it pondered as a medium for artistic expression, as a means of impacting the content—not in a pedantic way, but in the most profound way, where it achieves symbiosis with the narration, style, viewpoint, and even the plot itself…. There is an underlying rhythm to all text. Sentences crash and fall like the waves of the sea, and work unconsciously on the reader. Punctuation is the music of language.”

The Diarist’s Goal: Freeze Time

freeze timeEdward Robb Ellis (1911-1998) maintained a diary for almost 70 years, starting in 1927 when he was seventeen-years-old. He was an ordinary guy who lived through turbulent times and met some amazing people in the course of his life.

I came across this book at a bookshop in Boston a few years ago while on vacation. As one who loves keeping a journal, I remember reading the introduction by Pete Hamill and falling in love with the simple beauty of journaling he describes:

“The diarist has one essential goal: to freeze time.

“With each entry, he or she says that on this day, a day that will never again occur in the history of the world, I lived. I lived in this city or that town, upon which the sun shone warmly or the rain fell steadily. I ate breakfast, walked city streets or country roads, drove a car or entered a subway. I worked. I dreamed. Other human beings said witty things to me, or stupid things, or brutal things; or I the same to them.

“I laughed. I wept. The newspapers told me about the fevers of politics, distant wars, and who won the ballgames. I experienced a work of art or read a novel or heard music that would not leave my mind.

“I was bored. I was afraid. I was brave. I was cowardly. I endured a headache. I broke my leg. I loved someone who did not love me back. I suffered the death of a loved one.

“This day will never come again, but here, in this diary, I will have it forever. Casual reader, listen: I, too, have lived.”

— Pete Hamill, “Introduction,” in Edward Robb Ellis, A Diary of the Century: Tales from America’s Greatest Diaristreprint (orig., 1995; Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Sterling Publishing Co., 2008), p. 1.

Writing Like a Pig — Consume, Digest, and Give up the Bacon

Over at Ligonier’s blog, there’s a great post by R. C. Sproul, Jr. on what it takes to write well. I loved this section:PigPenLrg

I like to think of myself, in terms of my writing, as a pig. (No doubt I have plenty of critics who would agree.) What I mean is this.

A pig takes in copious amounts of stuff, some of it fairly expensive and fine, like pig feed, much of it cheap and base, like scraps from the family table.

In God’s good providence, the pig then turns that stuff into something profoundly treasured and dear—bacon. But it takes more than just the consuming to get that done. The pig has to die. In like manner I consume copious amounts of stuff.

I read fancy books written by theological giants, and I read blog posts and magazine articles by acerbic wits. But I also take in my surroundings and my circumstance.

I am always watching or reading (consuming) or mulling (digesting) or bleeding (giving up the bacon.)

Read the rest here.

Why I Journal (And When NOT to Journal)

journalingOver the years journaling has become a daily habit and discipline for me. Basically, I make it a point to write something every single day, however brief or scattered. Here are seven quick reasons why I journal:

(1) to keep a record of life’s journey. I want to relive great and funny moments, and not forget the humbling, painful events of life. Pete Hamill: “The diarist has one essential goal: to freeze time… This day will never come again, but here, in this diary, I will have it forever.” Andi Ashworth: “With a journal in hand, we have a notebook in which to be a student of life.”

(2) to have a tangible account of God’s blessings. Close to the reason above, I don’t want to be like Israel and “forget” God and all He’s done! One of the beauties of corporate worship is the coming together of God’s people to recite what God has done. D. A. Carson reminds us, “Believers who spend no time reviewing and pondering in their minds what God has done, whether they are alone and reading their Bibles or joining with other believers in corporate adoration, should not be surprised if they rarely sense that God is near” (For the Love of God, vol. 1 [Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), May 22). Journaling is but another means of tangibly recording God’s unwarranted grace in my life.

(3) to serve as a reminder of the long-term sanctification process. I need a constant reminder that I don’t become “holy” overnight — it takes time and holy sweat (cf. Phil. 2:12, 13; 1 Tim. 4:15)! Journaling serves as a mirror: it reminds me of resolutions I’ve made and broken, of how desperate I am in need of God’s enabling grace to obey and honor him.

(4) to aid me in prayer and meditation. After reading two or three pages, Nicholas Carr admits, “I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle”(“Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic, July 1, 2008). Journaling allows to me to slow down and focus my thoughts, to unplug and disconnect as I pray and meditate on Scripture.

(5) to practice the writing craft. There’s no better way to improve as a writer than by writing. Plain and simple.

(6) to keep a collection of odds and ends. I am able to save quotes, articles, even undeveloped thoughts, and use them for a future paper or sermon. Truthfully, in recent weeks I’ve shifted this benefit on to Evernote where I’m able to efficiently and quickly save blog posts, articles, and quotes I come across. However, journaling still is my favorite means of keeping a collection of odds and ends of my own writing. I can track my thinking, see how it develops over time, and have the benefit of thinking on paper. John Piper, summarizing Augustine, says it well: “I count myself as one of the number of those who learn as they write and write as they learn.” 

(7) to be an enduring gift to posterity. I want to tell “my story” and in my own words, to challenge and instruct my children and grandchildren. As Donald Whitney encourages, journaling over a lifetime ought to have the goal of “build[ing] a monument to God’s faithfulness.” He adds this: “[L]ong after you’ve made your last entry, it’s also the one most likely to introduce your great-grandchildren to your life and faith and to influence them for Christ’s sake.” (Donald S. Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life: Spiritual Disciplines for the Overwhelmed [Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2003], 95.)

And yet, there are times when we should not journal. D. A. Carson, in his devotional commentary For the Love of God, offers this wise (and convicting!) word:

How self-deceived we humans are when it comes to matters religious. So many things that start off as incentives to repentance and godliness develop into vicious idols. What starts as an aid to holiness ends up as the triple trap of legalism, self-righteousness, and superstition. So it was with the bronze snake in the wilderness. Although it was ordered and used by God (Num. 21:4–9), it became such a religious nonsense in later times that Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Kings 18:4).

So it sometimes is with other forms of religious observance or spiritual discipline. One may with fine purpose and good reason start “journaling” as a discipline that breeds honesty and self-examination, but it can easily slide into the triple trap:

(a) in your mind you so establish journaling as the clearest evidence of personal growth and loyalty to Christ that you look down your nose at those who do not commit themselves to the same discipline, and pat yourself on the back every day that you maintain the practice (legalism);

(b) you begin to think that only the most mature saints keep spiritual journals, so you qualify—and you know quite a few who do not (self-righteousness);

(c) you begin to think that there is something in the act itself, or in the paper, or in the writing, that is a necessary means of grace, a special channel of divine pleasure or truth (superstition).

That is the time to throw away your journal.

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