Recently, I was in Corbin. My colleague Alex Lockridge, pastor of the First Baptist Church there, invited me up for a meeting. After the meeting, Alex and I sat in his office and talked over coffee. Kids. School. Homelife. Pastoring. Our conversation stopped skipping across the surface of the water when it reached preaching. I said something very Zach-esque like, “I enjoy talking the craft.” “Me, too!” Alex said, “And I don’t find all that many preachers who do.” “We just found two,” I said.
We decided to read a book together: Murder Your Darlings, and other gentle writing advice from Aristotle to Zinsser, by Roy Peter Clark. Even the title is clever, pairing the words murder and gentle. I suggested the book, recommended to me by another pastor who likes to talk the craft, my mentor James Lamkin. It’s a writing book on writing books. It explores lessons from 42 books written about writing. And because Roy Peter Clark writes it, it is deep and wide and fun. Fun is underrated in matters of “work,” and very important. Fun is the conductor of the passion, creativity, and energy essential for good work.
Here’s a great example of this Poynter Institute for Media Studies Senior Scholar having fun in his book with the fun title. Here he is mining the writing advice of Ursula LeGuin to vary sentence length:
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, like the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.
I’m excited to talk the craft with Alex.
Pastoral Ponderings is a brief, weekly email from Rev. Zach Bay. You are invited to peek behind the curtain of the pastor’s study at what he is reading, thinking about, and working on this week. Pastoral Ponderings may be a set of loose threads of thought or well-wrought article. It may be only a paragraph, but it will never be more than 400 words. Feel free to click reply and write back anytime. Zach enjoys hearing from you.