Meadow Rue Merrill is a writer living in mid-coast Maine. She is the author of a memoir, Redeeming Ruth, a children’s picture book, The Christmas Cradle, and four other books in the Lantern Hill Farm series. Her website is www.meadowrue.com.
Rarely does an aspiring writer get invited to sit with an ink-dyed editor to hash over the finer points of storytelling. Twenty-five years ago, fresh out of college, I landed a journalism gig at Maine’s smallest daily newspaper, which happened to have a writing coach. Every Friday after our morning deadline, five other staff reporters and I would gather at a local sandwich shop for lunch with Willis, a former Vietnam War correspondent, who would open a manila file filled with clippings of everything we’d written that week and spread them across the table. Then, over burgers and fries, he’d analyze each article, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph, showing us how to make our writing stronger. His feedback showed. Despite the paper’s diminutive size, we regularly won top awards from the Maine Press Association.
For those who don’t have access to such a coach, longtime editor Andrew T. Le Peau serves the same wise writing instruction in his new book Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality. This is the book for anyone who has said, “I’d like to write, but I don’t know where to begin”—whether you’d like to write a shorter piece for a newspaper or magazine or to write a full-length book. It’s also for those with more experience who’d like to make their writing even better. Le Peau, who worked for more than 40 years as an editor at InterVarsity Press, has also written several Bible studies and books. In the preface to his writing guide he says his desire throughout his career has been “to help people express their ideas as clearly and powerfully as possible.” The same motivation, he says, inspired this book.
Le Peau, who focuses on writing nonfiction, divides his book into three sections: the craft of writing, the art of writing, and the spirituality of writing. He also includes a handful of handy appendices, such as how to gain recognition as a writer, how to work with an editor or agent, and whether or not to self-publish. While there are plenty of popular writing guides (some of which the author references), Le Peau’s stands out because of his extensive experience behind the editor’s desk and because of his Christian faith.
Tips on Craft
Le Peau’s tips on craft—how to write clearly and effectively—are as applicable to fiction writers as they are to those who write nonfiction because many techniques are the same. Seasoning his advice with humor and personal stories, Le Peau provides examples from writers of both genres to address topics such as how to find a good opening, recognizing who you are writing for, and finding a suitable structure for your work.
Think you have to outline before you start writing? For those who hate constructing an outline, Le Peau has a solution: “Step one may be to just start writing.” After all, he notes, it is impossible “to outline something when we don’t even know what we want to say.” For many writers, myself included, tapping out letters on a keyboard or scratching them with a pen on paper is how we discover what want to say. The best writing is a process of discovery. Or, as the poet Robert Frost supposedly once said, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Le Peau also covers the topic of “principled persuasion,” which he defines as “the honest attempt to influence others for a good purpose” (as opposed to trying to manipulate or coerce them). This distinction is essential in an increasingly virulent culture where anyone with an opinion and a computer can broadcast their words before millions, and it is equally important for pastors and other Christian leaders who want to influence that culture.
Almost every piece of nonfiction, Le Peau says, includes persuasive writing. The key is to stick to the facts, be honest about contrary viewpoints, credit sources, use logic, and show humility by not overstating opinions. Rather than merely convincing others, he argues, a writer’s goal should be to work toward the common good and help others flourish by “learning to live out the image of God” in our lives and our words. Such spiritually attuned thoughts, which permeate Le Peau’s advice, elevate this book from a mere writing guide into a reflection on why we write to begin with.
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Source: Christianity Today