By Andy Butcher
As a schoolkid back in England, I named-dropped G.K. Chesterton as a late relative somewhere back on my mom’s side of the family to earn some brownie points from my English teachers. But all I really knew of him was his famous four-stanza Easter poem, “The Donkey.”
Only later did I discover him not only as the author of the beloved Father Brown mysteries but a brilliant Christian apologist and essayist whose pithy writing is still quoted today. Gems like, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
Though Chesterton’s style is of a different era, it continues to resonate because it embodies what I believe to be three timeless fundamentals of good writing. They are to be found in Habakkuk 2:2, when God told the prophet:“Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.”
Here in this simple instruction are three essentials for any writing—blog, book, newsletter—that you hope will endure:
- Write the revelation.
You can’t lead people where you haven’t been yourself. Before you can speak for God, you have to have heard from Him. Sure, you could regurgitate what a bunch of other people have said, and that may make you look well-read but you’re unlikely to be. Because you’re not really adding anything to the conversation. It’s curation, not creation.
Before you sit at a keyboard, you need to be sitting at the feet of the Master. Like Simon Peter, we should be telling Him, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). There’s a difference between wanting to say something and actually having something to say.
- Make it plain.
The writer’s temptation is to want to be clever more than to be clear. There’s room for a nice turn of phrase, to be sure, but it needs to be in the service of the message, not to make the messenger look good. A well-crafted sentence is like a string of pearls; it accentuates the beauty of its subject rather than drawing attention to itself.
One way to avoid becoming too florid when you write is to read your words out loud when you have finished. It soon becomes clear whether you’ve written to make an impression or to make an impact.
- So [they] may run.
It’s always best to begin with the end in mind. What do you want to happen to/for people as a result of their reading what you have written? Luke wrote his Gospel account for Theophilus, “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4). Several of the epistles state that they were written “so that …”
What’s your “so that”? How do you want readers to be changed or change as a result—what steps do you want them to take? Identify the takeaways. Knowing the outcome you desire will shape the content and structure needed to get you there.