1. Beware those too cute, too concise, or too formulaic “tips” about writing. Don’t treat them as magic talismans.
2. On the other hand, don’t take tip # 1 too literally – occasionally a short, catchy phrase is truly a key to good writing – as an example, here’s one you may have heard, and in which I believe to the marrow of my bones: “the art of writing is rewriting.” (Sean O’ Faolain).
3. Start writing about what you know.
4. But perhaps even more importantly, know what you are writing about. Don’t wallow around in the subjective world of your words, and your intentions, and your feelings about what you think you are writing. After you have written something, be ruthlessly objective. Ask yourself, “what would the guy in the check out line at the food store, or the lady over there on the subway, or farmer on the tractor in the fields … what would they think about my story, the way I have written it up to now?
5. Concision, concision, concision. One of my problems when I started writing in college was that I was too in love with the power of words. I didn’t realize that the power comes in the STORY – don’t let the words get in the way. If they do, chop them out of your story. In my humble opinion, elegance of prose comes not just in what is finally said after many polishings and rewrites, but what is eliminated by the delete button.
6. Following up on #5, we can liken the writing of a story to building a house – better to start with simple construction and then “add on” later, than to over-build in the first instance, and have to tear down walls (did I just violate tip #1?)
7. Consider your audience – the reader who doesn’t know you, and may not even care who you are. What are they going through in life? What do they find meaningful? Jesus was a master story-teller in his parables, because he was able to present his stories in a circumstantial context that his audience could relate to. People were his target – he wasn’t simply spinning some abstract, Platonic truth.
8. Ask yourself, early on – “what is my story REALLY about?” If you can’t reduce it to a simple headline in a newspaper, you may find yourself in trouble half-way through.
9. Are you a writer who is a Christian – or a Christian writer?
10. Aristotle made the astoundingly obvious declaration that a story contains a beginning, a middle, and an end. But his observation was true – look at the structure of the Bible, and the entire plan of human redemption – from “in the beginning, God …” in Genesis to “I am coming quickly …” in Revelation. Story telling, in this light, is a holy work. It is powerful calling. One literary critic once said that the story “educates” the imagination to higher moral resolve. But I say, that Spirit-filled writing can illuminate the soul, and impact eternity. God could have laid out His plan for salvation in a ten-volume theological treatise and then could have required all of us to read it. Instead, he told us a story – a true story – and wonder of wonders, we are in it. How great is that!