Freelance Blog + writing tips

Guest Post: Write What You Mean

By Christopher D. Hall

We've had the amazing experience of reading someone's writing build up, layer upon layer, until, in the last paragraph or chapter, the author with a flourish reveals his conclusion, "Thus the sun must revolve around the earth!" We gasp at how skillful he was in leading us right to where he wanted us. It is shocking, to be pulled along, hook-line-and-sinker by an amazing thinker who convinces you unwittingly and forces you to her own conclusion…or at least the reasonableness of her conclusion.

Mystery writers are particularly gifted at this, especially when the perp is not some deus ex machina but has been in the narrative all along, dropping bread crumbs throughout the story. Whether reading fiction or non-fiction, that experience can be electrifying, seeing the power of words, of arguments, of leading a reader in the direction you have planned, carrying him through until he's convinced in the end.

Attempting to emulate this without the skill and gift is a fatal mistake. I can't do this, at least not by sheer will. It takes an organized, subtle, logical mind to write in an organized, subtle, and logical way. It cannot be forced, and it cannot be created ex nihilo.

You cannot write effects. Every writer wants to create certain effect in his/her readers, but we don't write effects--or affects either. We write words. In sentences. We write words that we mean, conveying the information you want to convey. If you are not writing words, but writing for an effect, with the eye to the emotional response you want your reader (hearers) to have, you will go wrong, and create nothing that makes sense nor moves anyone.

Remember that a writer writes words. That's the key to good writing. Write what you want to say, using words. Write what you are thinking. Don't try to be polished and nuanced and subtle. If you are polished and nuanced in your thinking, then it will come out on the paper. If you're not, don't pretend to be. Just write.

If you attempt to write in a way that your brain doesn't work, what will show up on your paper will be meandering and vague. It is inevitable: what is in your brain will show up on paper, in some form. If you're unclear about the point you are making, your confusion will be right there on the paper.

But if it's the case that you're not sure which approach would be best, that is, what sort of argument to make, how to introduce this topic which builds to that topic, what kind of rhetorical outline to use, the best approach is to simply pick one and write. If it's the wrong approach or outline, then you'll know when you edit it.

If you're writing because you want the reader to feel the way you feel, then you must feel, and write what you feel and explain why. Know what you want to say, then write it down. It works.

Christopher D. Hall is a Lutheran pastor, husband, father of four, freelancer and blogger for This Side of the Pulpit

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Guest Post: Write What You Mean + writing tips