Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Writing like Dostovesky or Lucado

Writing has always been a struggle for me both at the level of production (amount) and quality (style). Once I was told by a professor in my doctoral program that my writing was Schlecht (which for you non-German readers means bad or poor!) and that I would need to ratchet it up several notches if I were to succeed in academia.

I appreciated that the professor thought that academic writing should have both excellent research and literary qualities. If you read dissertations you will realize quickly the lack of emphasis on the latter. His prescription to my writing foibles was to read 19th century novels to gain a sense of style required for excellent academic writing. So I took the first summer of my Ph.D. to read a couple of Dostoevsky novels: the Idiot and Brothers Karamasov. It was a great experience for an person who has read very little classic literature (I hated English in High School and avoided it in College as much as I could). While I would not claim that my thesis is of a high literary quality to say the least (please!), don't be surprise if you find traces of the style of the English translation of Dostoevsky.

Recently, I have been attempting to write for a wider audience (interested laity) and I have struggled to write in a way that avoids complex and pregnant sentences--the stuff of good German and 19th century literary style. One older and wiser mentor suggested to me recently that I need to read Max Lucado. Truth be told many years ago (probably a couple of decades ago) I read almost everything Lucado had written. However, when my friend recommend this to me--and his recommendation was perhaps tongue-in-cheek--I balked: Max Lucado are you kidding that is like one step above Joel Osteen. Still as I reflected on his recommendation, it made me realize that when I write for the church that is exactly the kind of voice I need to hear rolling around in my head as I am constructing thoughts in sentences. So, in the short term, I'll be putting down War and Peace and picking up Cast of Charaters.


Jason said...

I can't wait to see the title of your next book, then! Coming to a Christian bookstore in the mall for signings, JOEL WILLITTS!

Whatever you do, don't read Faulkner.

->True Lies<- said...

Is there anything else you would recommend?

Andrew Esqueda said...

I think that it is great and beneficial to the Church that you are willing to write in a way that is theologically rich, but understandable for the laity. I am not a fan of Max Lucado, but I would recommend reading Douglas Webster. He has a Ph.d from the University of Toronto, has been a pastor fro 20 or 30 years, has written tons of books, and is now teaching at Beeson Divinity school. He is an unbelievable communicator.

John Smuts said...

Andrew says:
He is an unbelievable communicator.

Is that supposed to be a compliment or a criticism?

(I think the best communicators are believable, but I'm biased by truth :-) )

Tim said...

This is my first time on this blog, and I love this post. I'm looking forward to reading more!
Being one who is tempted myself to becoming overly technical in both my thinking and writing (yet desiring to be universally clear in my communication), I praise God for giving us the example of Scripture as the great communicator of the spiritual life.
For example, even the 2 short chapters of the relatively obscure book of the prophet Haggai blow me away for their philosophical 'pregnancy'...but yet they manage to speak to all people-both in the prophet's time and ours.
I also find Plato to be very refreshing in conveying complex ideas in a way that is literary and enjoyable (and often hilarious).

Judy Redman said...

I think that even in academic writing there is a need to be careful about sentences that are too complex and too pregnant. There are some people whose work I don't bother reading because it's just too hard to work out what they're trying to say.

Having said that, most people who read for enjoyment can manage a reasonably complex sentence or two. I think that one of the major challenges in writing for the interested lay person is working out which theological/biblical studies terms are actually known outside academia. I don't think it's always necessary to avoid them if doing so means using a long and clumsy paraphrase, but they do need to be defined the first time you use them and also preferably in a glossary. This means that when you use it again some pages on, the reader doesn't have to try to find it in the body of the text.