Tag Archives: On Writing Well

“Read, reread, and reread again” by Douglas Wilson

“As a general pattern, read quality literature, and go ‘slumming’ occasionally to remind yourself what quality is and why quality matters. And when you go slumming, enjoy yourself.

Don’t act like you just came down to check out the rubes and cornpones. In the writer’s restaurant, you should know what first rate cordon bleu is and, at the same time, not be above enjoying an elephant ear or a funnel cake at the state fair.

‘Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend’ (Prov. 27:17). In a similar way that conversation sharpens a man’s countenance, conversation with men throughout history sharpens a man’s mind.

You don’t want to hang out all the time with lazy friends—bad companions corrupt good morals. If this is the case, and it is, then a point should be made to seek out profitable companions in a disciplined fashion throughout your life with books.

Set a lifetime pattern of reading books. Set a course of reading, and adopt general criteria which will guide your reading. I would recommend one to two books a week.

If you began this when you were thirty and joined the choir invisible when you were seventy, you would have read, over this course of time, between 2,080 books and 4,160 books. It is quite true that you run the risk of learning something, but these are the risks a writer must take.

Read attentively and with your eyes open, but not as though you are cramming for a test. The reason you should not read as though studying for a test is that, as we have already noted, the vast majority of what you learn (with great profit) you will not be able to recall. Read with a pen, pencil, or highlighter so that you can mark things of interest in a way that will help you find them again, and keep your reading intelligent and interactive.

Generally speaking, read canonical literature. The amount of books in the world is vast, and your reading should be filled with purpose and intent. You are not wandering around aimlessly in circles, which would be easy to do if the books you read were to be selected at random. Canonical reading provides you with the protections of a collective wisdom.

Anyone who wants to write in the English language needs to focus on the canon of Scripture. Read, reread, and reread again. This is of course something that all Christians should do, but it is also something every writer should do. For shaping the cadences of your mind, there is nothing like the Authorized Version.”

–Douglas Wilson, Wordsmithy (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2012), 42-43.

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“Writing advice for children” by C.S. Lewis

“What really matter is:

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean ‘More people died’ don’t say ‘Mortality rose.’

4. In writing, don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was ‘terrible,’ describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers: ‘Please will you do my job for me.’

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

With love,

C.S. Lewis.”

–C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Children (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 64. In this letter written on June 26, 1956, Lewis was responding to a child who wanted advice about writing.

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Filed under C.S. Lewis, Preaching, Quotable Quotes, Writing