For quite a while now, I've been meaning to post something somewhere about ways to improve my writing. Since there has been a recent flurry of posts on this subject at some of the blogs I frequent, I thought now was as good as time as any to ask.
I've been thinking recently that I need to continually find ways to improve my writing. One of the numerous reasons I started this blog was to improve my writing. It's all very well turning out 10 or so reviews a year when you have plenty of time to hone them, but I also felt that writing more often, would challenge me and help me move up a level. The risk is, of course, that the day to day writing is never quite as good as that which has taken longer to craft, but I think that's more true in the shorter term than in the long term. The process of writing very regularly means that the necessary skills get practised regularly as well. As a former sportsman, it was regular practise that made me a better player, rather than not doing anything between big games.
But since starting that experiment 16 plus months ago, I hadn't done a great deal else to intentionally get better. Then I was challenged by the attitude of my friend, (and, as it happens, my boss), Ness Wilson. I've known Ness for about 13 years now, and was aware from the first few times I heard her speak that she was a good preacher. However, over the last few years, she's been very intentional about doing everything she can to improving her speaking, listening to some of the real experts reading books on it, listening to herself and analysing her talks , and so on. It's paid dividends. When she started this process, she was already an excellent speaker, but now she is one of the best I have ever heard. She isn't an hilarious speaker, nor the type that blows you away with the way they unpick a particular text. Those aren't really her strengths. But in all other respects, she is fantastic. (The problem comes when I go to see some renown speaker somewhere else. Very often they fail to reach the standards to which I've become accustomed).
Anyway, knowing the way that Ness's deliberate effort in honing her preaching has paid off, I realised that it had been a while since I had done much to improve what I consider one of my key skills - my writing. I actually started being deliberate on this a while back, but I'd like to throw the question out to anyone who reads this blog....
...What can I do to improve my writing?
Please feel free to comment below, or contact me directly. I'm looking for both general tips such as "read more", as well as things specific to my own writing, such as "you don't really know how to use semi-colons" (this is something I'm working on!). In particular, I'm thinking of practices writers can take on so that they continually improve their writing, rather than one off pieces of advice, but I'll take what's offered. Please be gentle with me though!
As I said at the start of the article, there are a number of pieces on this at the moment in the blog-o-sphere. The recent spate of articles on this started with Angela Roskop Erisman at Imaginary Grace. Her post Writing in Biblical Studies looks at some of the resources that are available in four different areas: Academic Research and Writing, Non-Academic Resources, Teaching and Publishing.
Erisman's post was picked up by Loren Rosson of The Busybody. The Seven Deadly Sins in Writing focusses on just one of the books Erisman recommends Constance Hale's Sin and Syntax. The seven are sloth, gluttony, fog, pretense, gobbledygook, jargon, and euphemism. (I can't help wondering what a Brad Pitt/Morgan Freeman film would look like if it was about a man who handed out twisted, ironic punishments to sinfully bad writers). I can't quite tell whether the "Seven Deadly Sins" format Rosson uses is from Hale's summary, or her own invention, but either way I like it.
I'm not alone, both Mark Goodacre and Tyler Williams cite it in recent posts. Mark questions one (euphemism), adds one (polemic) and approves six, and I have to say I broadly agree with him. Tyler has less to say, but then he'd already commented on Erisman's original post(which is where I heard about it).
I'll return to the subject at some point in the next fortnight, to post a mixture of my own ideas and (hopefully) some comments.