how to start
I’ve been asked how I start a piece of writing. The question followed one of my Edgefield Advertiser posts, so the context was biblical musings. But since getting started is a topic that fits any piece of writing, I’ll offer my thoughts on the challenge facing every writer and that’s all the time. Somehow the word gets written or typed or spoken. How does it happen?
I should say at the outset that writing is not easy to describe, not for me. What I’m about may not be a help, and the following just outlines what I do. To discuss one’s thoughts on some biblical passage isn’t the same as writing fiction or poetry. Writing for a newspaper also has its unique challenges. But since writing a newspaper piece on a biblical topic has for more than a dozen years been my most consistent effort as an author, I’ll start with that. First, I’m talking about prose. A piece like this also comes under the apologetics heading, at least as I view it. I’m trying to persuade, as well as interest and inform. And every piece has a start.
What will you make of it when I say that on Sunday afternoon, when I usually write my Advertiser articles, some topic comes to me? Or this . . . on a Sunday afternoon if I have no topic, I say, Lord, what shall I write? And some idea arrives. Another thing that opens that door is to be working on a series. I remember recent topics and begin thinking about the next thing to say. A case in point from the past month is a series on the Lord’s Prayer. I wrote on the specific petitions, sometimes more than one post on a single line, and concluded with the temptation detail and doxology in Matthew’s version. The Lord’s Prayer as a topic was part of a broader meditation on prayer in general. Somehow, the Lord’s Prayer seemed the next thing to do. The point is, starting just happens. However, what I write is driven by a passionate interest. There’s something that should be said and said by me.
I have more problem stopping than starting. The words multiply like an invasion of kudzu. But when I write for the Advertiser, I’m limited to one page–about 250 words. I’ve learned from years of pruning, cutting, editing, deleting, thinking and rethinking that less is definitely better than more, brevity than prolixity. That is an absolute fact, something I’ve tested, exercised, and proved to myself again and again. The fewer the words the better. And about now I’m reminding myself that I don’t need three or four adjectives to describe something. That English patient didn’t use any.
On the other side of the question, an odd fact now comes to me: The Hebrew word “conversation” also means “bush.” Amazing! The burning bush in Exodus 3 is a thorny bush (and a different word), so the figure changes a little. But conversation as a bush? How apt! And that brings me to another point about writing: Generally speaking, what I write starts as a conversation in my head, even a debate. I mentally make a point then imagine the riposte. What will someone argue?
And that bit of self-awareness takes me back to beginnings. My writing offers the best answer I currently have on some question, something I’ve turned over in my mind, debated with myself, and hashed out with an imagined conversation partner–a bushy matter, branching out every which way, taking twists and turns, looked at from different perspectives and different points of view. And now I’m laughing at myself. This post was supposed to be a straightforward comment on how I start at piece of writing. But the first thing I did was contradict myself! Is writing less rather than more or a dense bush with hundreds of branches, twigs, and leaves? I’m contradicting myself there too.
Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away. and every branch that bears fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit” (John 15: 1-2). The Lord was talking about his words and added: “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you may ask what you will and it shall be done for you” (John 15: 7)
Back to the starter. Sometimes the starter is simply a gift. But a beginning that comes from me is usually that original back and forth in my head–i.e., the bush. The finished product has been pruned, trimmed, dressed, and shaped. I often ask the Lord to put my writing in the hands of those he chooses. If my words are pruned, the piece will work better. Less is more.
Something else: Should it surprise anyone that when I write fiction, it’s all conversation.
with thanks to Christian-borisoff-KgzZj74L5z8-unsplash.jpg