If you only want the four points, here they are:
- Read A lot
- Write A lot
- Tweet Your Sermon Prep
- Manuscript Your Sermons
Pastors are writers. Our work is with words. Emails, texts, tweets, blogs, letters, sermons, counseling—we are ministers of the Word with our words. I want to improve my writing, not merely because I want to be perceived as a good writer (who cares about that when the Eschaton comes crashing down?), rather, so I can be a helpful servant for the Church of the risen Lord Jesus.
Writers are about as common as an underwhelmed diner at Olive Garden. Good writers? They are rare—like, medium rare. I think I’ve gone and confused my metaphors. Good writers are rare, like a full moon. Of course a full moon is rare. Do you know how many full moons there are in a year? 12-ish. I’d say 12 out of 365 qualifies for rare. Now, crazy-good writers are rarer than a Kardashian wedding. We won’t even spend time talking about those creatures of the keys.
But there are at least four ways we normal folk can improve our writing.
1. Read A Lot
Read blogs, books, commentaries, devotionals, history, non-fiction, fiction, magazines, ingredients, instruction manuals, and the dictionary. Read super-old books. Let your 21st century mind take a dip in a pool of 17th century puritans. And then take a soak in the 19th century with the Prince of Preachers, Mr. Spurgeon.
Read books on writing. I love Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson and On Writing by Stephen King. But don’t trick yourself into thinking that reading about writing is actual writing. Don’t believe your procrastinating ways.
When you read your favorite writers, do more than read them—study them. Pick them apart. Lift up the hood. Stare at their sentences until their structure opens up to you like Neo and the Matrix. Study how the writers you love are employing commas, semi-colons, dashes. How are they using short sentences? Long ones? There is an art to sentence rhythm and flow, and just like other instruments, it can be learned. I think. But some people are like Napoleon Dynamite; they just got the moves.
2. Write A Lot
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes you less terrible. And I’ll take that any day. A decrease in terribleness is a win. It’s a win for you and your reader(s). It’s time to challenge yourself.
Start a blog.
Start a journal.
Write for your church. Write a 500 word (or less) devotional for you church. And schedule it. And stick to your schedule. Will it be once a week? Twice? Three times a week!? You decide.
I think this discipline is what changed my writing from a -9 to a 2. As our church read through the New Testament in thirty days, I promised I would write a daily devotional on a section of the day’s reading. And I did it. I came out of that thirty days a different writer.
There is no substitution for writing a lot. Writers write. Wannabe writers wanna write. Just stop being a wannabe and do. I can’t tell you how many times another pastor has expressed their desire to write, and it’s usually with a tinge of a regret. “I wish I would have started writing by now.” Brother, you aren’t dead yet. Start today.
3. Tweet Your Sermon Prep
Or Facebook it if you like. When I’m in the throws of sermonizing, I’ve found that tweeting out my thoughts helps me crystallize points and phrases. Being restricted to 140 characters forces you to get to the point. Every preacher needs helping getting to the point. Twitter helps my writing get to the point. Get the point?
Writing, at some point, should be refined. Many advocate for writing like you are ralphing, hugging the porcelain throne after riding the whirly tea cups after you’ve had a corndog. Ok…fine. Get your words out with high-velocity. But at some point you gotta get it together. You’ll die. And it’s messy. I’ve found that tweeting during my sermon prep helps me put jigsaw together.
4. Manuscript Your Sermons
If you are an outline guy, try and make the switch to a manuscript. This is a surefire way to increase your goal to write a lot. Instead of writing an outline that’s around a few hundred words, write a manuscript that weighs in around 3,000 words. I even wrote a little eBook on why I think you should manuscript your sermons. Give it a shot. On a whim, I went full manuscript one weekend and haven’t looked back. Writing in bulk every week for every Sunday helps improve my writing.