"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write this for a memorial in a book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua ...'" (Ex. 17:14, NKJV).
Pastors say, "When I retire, I'm going to write a book."
It's like a mantra. What are you going to do in your retirement, pastor? "Write a book."
And he thinks he will. A book of his best sermons. A book of his most memorable stories. A book recounting the headaches, heartaches, and blessings from all the churches he has served.
That's the plan.
Most never will write that book. And the big reason is inertia. It's so hard to make ourselves do something we've never done before.
So, the best advice is: Get started now.
Step 1: Do it. This is the hardest.
Make yourself take the first baby steps. Open your computer.
Then, open the Word program and start a folder. Start typing. You can always delete anything you decide not to keep. But first, just start typing.
Tell what you did yesterday. What you had for breakfast today. About the last television program you enjoyed. The most memorable conversation you had in the last week. The best thing anyone said to you this month. The most delicious bite you've had since your last birthday. Anything. Just start writing.
Start folders on the following topics:
- My life when I was 10 years old.
- Why I decided to go into the ministry.
- Questions I'd love to ask the apostle Paul.
- What I wish I'd done 20 years ago.
- The best thing about being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
- 50 things I love about my wife.
Each day when you turn on the laptop, go to those folders, one at a time. Open it, glance over what you've already written and then start adding to it.
Then, go to the next folder and repeat.
Soon, you will realize you've been typing for a full 30 minutes or more. And you're the one who said you didn't have anything to write about!
What you are doing with this little exercise is:
- Getting started. Remember, we said that's the hardest thing about writing a book? And now, you've gotten started. Good for you.
- Learning to put your thoughts on paper (OK, on cyber-paper).
- Finding your voice. The only way to "find your voice" is to write a lot. Soon, you will decide you like a certain way of expressing yourself and do not care for the other ways you've tried.
Now, the next step—the second hardest step in writing—is to keep it up.
Stay with this. If the hardest step is getting started, the second hardest is to keep it up.
People who write books—and I mean busy people like yourself who are not able to retreat into a mountain setting for six months and come out with a book—know that the way to do this is write something every day.
Write some every day.
And you will probably find the way to do that is to find a 30-minute slot in your schedule when you can sit at the computer and write. For most people, that time is early in the morning.
And the third step is to edit it.
Go back to what you wrote last week and tweak it.
People who write all the time—those who have long since gotten past the first two steps of "starting" and "staying with it"—say editing their work is the hardest part of writing. It is now, but it wasn't originally. Originally, there was nothing to edit because you hadn't put anything on paper. But now that you have, now you go back and improve on it.
Simply stated, editing means to make your writing better. At first, your goal was to "get it down." Then, you let it "set" for a few days. And now, you can return to it and read it objectively.
Most writers and bloggers will tell you it's nearly impossible to edit something they have just written. There are exceptions, but they're rare. Most of us have to leave the piece and come back the next day or next week in order to see the writing dispassionately.
So, now, looking over what we have written, we will:
- Correct misspellings and typos.
- Strike out redundancies. You said the same thing twice. "But I did that for emphasis," someone protests. "I always repeat myself in sermons." Yes, but you don't do it in writing. For a written piece, the reader can return to what you said and reread it for themselves.
- Shorten and tighten it up. Take out all the unnecessary verbiage. For instance: "As a matter of fact, I thought to myself, that's exactly what we ought to do." How would you tighten that up? You would remove everything unneeded. That sentence will function just as well as "And that's what we need to do."
- Be sure not to overly edit it. Leave your personality in. I'm thinking of some published Bible studies done by a favorite seminary professor. He had the most wonderful personality, and his classes were a delight. However, by the time his Bible studies had been filtered through a half-dozen editors, there was no personality left. A robot could have written it. And I hated what that did to his writing.
There are many more things to do to become an accomplished and successful writer. You may want to subscribe to Writer's Digest (writersdigest.com). You may want to visit your local library and check out the books on good writing. Don't fail to learn the basics of writing, something many of us missed in the ninth grade (subjects and verbs agree, stuff like that).
Have fun with your writing; otherwise, you won't stay with it.
Someone asks, "What am I going to do with what I have written?" Answer: Ask the Lord. Ask your wife. And keep writing while you're waiting.
Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing, and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
This article originally appeared at joemckeever.com.
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