TOP THREE BOOKS: BOOKS ON WRITING

There are a lot of books on writing.  I have not read them all, but I very well may before the next four or five years are up.  I still feel inadequate, even after authoring two books and many short stories.  I don’t know if that is writer’s neurosis or if it is the fact I know there is a lot I don’t know.  That is why I keep reading and studying books about writing.  It was tempting to save Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott for this category but I don’t think her book is about writing as much as it is the artists life.  Of course, I could be wrong.

Here I mean books that actually instruct on nuts and bolts, dos and don’ts of writing.  There are three that stand head and shoulders above the rest, in my honest opinion.

The Elements of Style (Illustrated), Strunk/White/Kalman

Let me put the cards on the table.  It is just the tiny Strunk and White that is the real help to the writer, but I adore the illustrated version that came out a few years ago.  It makes me laugh.Elements of sTyle Cover

It just strikes me as impossible for any writer to seriously discharge his or her duties without Strunk and White nearby.  How else would we keep things in our stories from being incorrectly labeled as inflammable?

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King

I wish I’d read this book before I wrote my first book.  Seriously, that book would have been much better had I know all the important things in this book.  It covers everything from voice, point of view, dialogue, and the oh-so-important and often referred to catch-all called show don’t tell.  If anyone wants to be a fiction writer and could only pick one book–pick this one.  It even tells you how to use curse words–if you’re into that kind of thing.

Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Edited by Larry Phillips

Okay, Hemingway didn’t really write this book as one sits down to write it.  This guy named Phillips sifted through Hemingway’s letters, articles and anything else he could find and pulled out things Papa said about writing.  It is a treasure.  Hemingway was a violent, womanizing, amoral man but he knew his craft and a lot can be learned by watching him work.  Consider this little gem:

The hardest thing in the world to do is to write straight honest prose on human beings.  First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write.  Both take a lifetime to learn (p. 26).

Some of you out there might have your favorite writing books.  I’d like to know what they are in case it is something I’ve not read and which would be a help to me.  I can always use the help.

 

 

 

ALL HEROES DAY AKA ALL SAINTS DAY

This is the last re-posting I’ll make during the week of “Hallows Eve.”  Next week I will return with original content; assuming I can come up with something.  A bit of sadness marks this particular re-posting as the only living member of the “heroes on the wall club” died a couple of months ago

C. S. Lewis As He Hangs on My Wall

I’ve spent some time this morning reflecting on the nature of All Saints Day and what it might mean for me; a Protestant who rejects using the word saint for anything other than a description of any Christ-follower; which is how the New Testament uses it.  The problem is I completely understand the human impulse to want to emulate other human beings.  I just think that perhaps the best word is not saint but maybe hero.  So on this All Heroes Day I am thinking about those who have served as heroes for me.  Their pictures hang in my study, just over the door.  They hang high so they can watch me do my work.   There are four of them.

C. S. Lewis.  Lewis was not only a great writer but a great thinker.  He reminds me of two things.  One, he teaches me to be creative in my writing and in my preaching.  The imagination is a powerful tool in doing the work of ministry.  Second, his brilliant mind encourages me to think through things logically and critically; particularly issues of how the Christian faith interacts with the world around me.

Ernest Hemingway.  Hemingway could never be characterized as Christian, but he still teaches me something that relates to my work.  Hemingway wrote what he knew and he wrote it precisely and concisely.  His stories, though fictional, are always anchored to his real world experiences.  This gives him credibility in his subject matter that comes through on the page.  I need to keep that in mind if I am to keep credibility in my daily life and my ministry.  I must stick to what I know and not pretend to be an expert on things I don’t know about.  When I write, I should center my stories in a setting about which I am conversant.

C. H. Spurgeon.  Spurgeon is still the Prince of Preachers even though he’s been dead a very long time.  Like Lewis, Spurgeon teaches me multiple lessons about my ministry.  One, he encourages me that being a Baptist is not a bad thing.  Second, he affirms that controversy is not bad either.  Most of Spurgeon’s ministry was bathed in one controversy or another and whenever there was a lull, he invented it!  Spurgeon was a very complicated man whom the Lord used to do wonderful things.  May I be as blessed.

Calvin Miller.  I’d never heard of this great leader until I attended Southwestern Seminary.  It was hearing him preach in chapel one day that I realized I could be me—who I was—and not a cookie cutter product of a bland seminary.  But as I learned from him at Southwestern and later at Beeson he opened my eyes to a fundamental truth that informs my sermonizing:  The sermon has work to do, and as the preacher my job is to accomplish the work which the text demands.  A non-preacher might not understand that, but it is easy to get sidetracked in the preaching task and lose sight of the fundamental work of the text, which must be accomplished in the sermon.

Photos of these four people hang in my study and watch me.  I will probably add Bonhoeffer sometime this year, and who knows the great cloud of witnesses may grow over the years.  These heroes keep me focused; and provide a path for me to travel.

O Almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord:  Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys which thou has prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.  (BCP–Collect for All Saints Day)

ALL SAINTS–A DAY FOR HEROES

I’ve spent some time this morning reflecting on the nature of All Saints Day and what it might mean for me; a Protestant who rejects using the word saint for anything other than a description of any Christ-follower; which is how the New Testament uses it.  The problem is I completely understand the human impulse to want to emulate other human beings.  I just think that perhaps the best word is not saint but maybe hero.  So on this All Heroes Day I am thinking about those who have served as heroes for me.  Their pictures hang in my study, just over the door.  They hang high so they can watch me do my work.   There are four of them.

C. S. Lewis.  Lewis was not only a great writer but a great thinker.  He reminds me of two things.  One, he teaches me to be creative in my writing and in my preaching.  The imagination is a powerful tool in doing the work of ministry.  Second, his brilliant mind encourages me to think through things logically and critically; particularly issues of how the Christian faith interacts with the world around me.

Ernest Hemingway.  Hemingway could never be characterized as Christian, but he still teaches me something that relates to my work.  Hemingway wrote what he knew and he wrote it precisely and concisely.  His stories, though fictional, are always anchored to his real world experiences.  This gives him credibility in his subject matter that comes through on the page.  I need to keep that in mind if I am to keep credibility in my daily life and my ministry.  I must stick to what I know and not pretend to be an expert on things I don’t know about.  When I write, I should center my stories in a setting about which I am conversant.

C. H. Spurgeon.  Spurgeon is still the Prince of Preachers even though he’s been dead a very long time.  Like Lewis, Spurgeon teaches me multiple lessons about my ministry.  One, he encourages me that being a Baptist is not a bad thing.  Second, he affirms that controversy is not bad either.  Most of Spurgeon’s ministry was bathed in one controversy or another and whenever there was a lull, he invented it!  Spurgeon was a very complicated man whom the Lord used to do wonderful things.  May I be as blessed.

Calvin Miller.  I’d never heard of this great preacher and writer until I attended Southwestern Seminary.  It was hearing him preach in chapel one day that I realized I could be me—who I was—and not a cookie cutter product of a bland seminary.  But as I learned from him at Southwestern and later at Beeson he opened my eyes to a fundamental truth that informs my sermonizing:  The sermon has work to do, and as the preacher my job is to accomplish the work which the text demands.  A non-preacher might not understand that, but it is easy to get sidetracked in the preaching task and lose sight of the fundamental work of the text, which must be accomplished in the sermon.

Photos of these four people hang in my study and watch me.  I will probably add Bonhoeffer sometime this year, and who knows the great cloud of witnesses may grow over the years.  These heroes keep me focused; and provide a path for me to travel.

O Almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord:  Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys which thou has prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.  (BCP–Collect for All Saints Day)

HEMINGWAY AND PASCAL TALK

So right now I am reading two different books, which is not that unusual for me.  Sometimes I read up to four different books concurrently.  One of the books I am about to finish is Pascal’s Pensees.  I’ve been working on this treatise for a long time.  My joy that I am nearing completion is great; although I will be a bit sad.  My morning 5-6 pages of Pascal have served as a daily ‘rebuke’ from the great thinker.  The other book I am reading is one I started last night and will probably finish today.  It is a book of quotations from Ernest Hemingway about writing.

My problem is, these two people, both whom I hope to learn from, could not be more opposite.  I was wondering what a conversation between the two might look like.

            Hemingway:  You have to know the real world in order to write the real world.  Everything else is just fakery

            Pascal:  But the world is filled with such darkness.  How can you trust your eyes to truly know the real world? 

            Hemingway:  That is symbolic garbage.  There is no symbolism, there are only real things.  

            Pascal:  Yes, real things like mathematics, God, Christ, and science but; beyond that we find we cannot trust ourselves to truly accept the known things.

            Hemingway:  What do you mean?  If I kill a bull in the ring, I know what happened.  I felt the emotion, saw the blood, smelled the dust, heard the cheers.  I know that is the world.  That is real.

            Pascal:  But is it?  I hear you say that you saw, smelled, and heard and that the bull died—but what of your death?  Will that be real?  Killing the bull is only a faint act of superiority in which you attempt to forget by way of amusement, your own mortality.  It is sin that is hunting you down seeking to kill you and drag you away from life.

            Hemingway:  I understand all about sin, brother.  There is pain and injustice in the world and if there were a God he would take care of it and I wouldn’t have to write about it.

            Pascal:  Would you bet on the fact that there is no God? 

            Hemingway:  Oh bother—I’m going fishing.

Pascal amazes me because his mind is so logical and knowledgeable of both the Scriptures and the natural world.  He and Hemingway would agree that the world around us tells us things.  Hemingway, however, rejects God and Christ as significant in the life of people in understanding the world.  Pascal argues that without the Lord, the world only draws us further away from God.

Hemingway was a great writer—I love his terse style; but his philosophy of life I find, wanting.