Writers, Stop Writing About Writing

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This might be hypocritical. It’s likely a bit odd and possibly (probably) pretentious. Some might refer to it as Meta. I prefer to think of it as Inception-like. As a writer, I have some things to write about writers writing about writing.

Writers writing about writing, while not always pretentious, can reach levels of pretention previously only dreamed of. Sometimes this shows itself as melodrama. “I write because I must.” “The pressure of pain begins to build until, of a sudden, it burst forth like lava from a volcano . . . and I write.” “Publishing a written work is like sending a child off to school for the first time, every time.” “Writing is a grueling, thankless task, but I have no choice. I am compelled”

Gag me. Nobody wants to hear about the travails of the writer, not even other writers. (In fact, while you’d think other writers would be the most empathetic we are in fact the least inclined to care about your moaning.) If it’s so awful, quit, for all our sakes. You’re not compelled against your will; you write because you enjoy it, or at least something about it. And with all that whining, methinks what you love most is the attention not the craft.

Other times, and more often, the pretension shows itself as constancy. That is to say it keeps showing up, because writers won’t quit writing about writing. A short roll of the eyeballs around the interwebs will reveal a dozen daily new posts by writers about writing. Some writers have blogs devoted to writing about writing.

Give it a rest. Your subject matter is tired. Your craftsmanship suffers because of redundancy and a limited pallet. And you become difficult to trust because, well, you never write about life. And life is the stuff of writing, not writing itself.

The last incarnation of pretension is uppityness. When Stephen King writes a book about writing I read it cover to cover and then start over. And it is marvelous. When a thirty-something, barely published, Internet composer of public journal entries does so, it’s uppity. Stephen King can tell me to “kill my darlings”, not many others can. They ought to be figuring which of their own darlings to off.

You know what’s remarkable? How little the truly great writers say or said about writing itself. They just wrote. And so should we. They didn’t cogitate on “the life of the writer”; no, they lived life, digested it, and regurgitated it in words and stories and essays. They learned and responded. They read and read some more. And they wrote. And so should we. Maybe, someday, we’ll be good enough to write about writing, but if we are we’ll probably be too busy living and writing to notice.

photo credit: cellar_door_films via photopin cc

Introducing My New Website!

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I read a lot of blogs, and in the past I’ve posted lots of links here on this site. But the times they are a changin’.

My wife, Jen, and I, have decided to create a new website called Pay Attention: Seeing God Everywhere. The purpose of the website is to post quality content on a regular basis which, in some way, points to God.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we will only post Christian videos and pictures. In fact, far from it. I believe that the image and glory of God can be seen in every nook and cranny of creation, from songs written by the Red Hot Chili Peppers to videos of incredible athletic feats to finely detailed paintings to humorous sketches. Most of the content we post on the site will not be distinctly “Christian”, although, to paraphrase Abraham Kuyper, every square inch of the creation belongs to Christ.

Think of our site as being like Upworthy, minus the breathless insistence on political correctness, or Twenty Two Words, minus the cute videos of dogs, or Buzzfeed, minus the inappropriate stuff.

So go ahead, stop on over, and start seeing God everywhere.

Books and Tunes For Your Christmas Shopping List

It’s the time of year when people start making their Christmas lists. I read a ton of books and listen to a ton of music so I thought I would give you some recommendations for your own Christmas list.

BOOKS:

League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada

An absolutely fascinating book detailing the slow discovery of the massive concussion epidemic in the NFL. The book also shows the great effort made by the NFL to downplay and minimize the epidemic. Dipping into the lives of Mike Webster, Junior Seau, Andre Watters, Merril Hoge, and many other NFL greats, this book would be a great gift for the sports fan in your life.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

I always enjoy the writing of Malcolm Gladwell, and this book was no exception. In this book, Gladwell, who is always exploring counter-intuitive, contrarian ideas, tries to understand why “Goliaths” are so often beaten by underdogs. Although I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the others written by Gladwell it was still worth the read.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

This was, by far, one my favorite books of the year. As a self-described introvert, it helped me understand why certain things are easy for me and other things are more difficult. It also forced me to wrestle through the biblical ramifications of being an introvert. After all, the Bible doesn’t ever use the words “introvert” or “extrovert” to describe people. These are sociological distinction, not biblical distinctions. Nevertheless, I think this book contains a lot of common grace wisdom, and I recommend it for anyone who would describe themselves as an introvert or who lives with an introvert.

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is one of the funniest writers out there, and his ability to find the hilarious in the mundane is simply brilliant. Whether he’s talking about French dentistry, his father’s dinnertime attire (shirt and underpants), or the time he tried to buy the skeleton of a murdered pygmy, he’s always funny and often profound.

Jesus On Every Page: 10 Simple Ways To Seek and Find Jesus In the Old Testament by David Murray

The Old Testament often seems archaic, difficult to understand, and difficult to relate to every day life. But Jesus himself said that all of the Old Testament spoke of and pointed to him. In light of this truth it is essential that we study the Old Testament. David Murray has written a very helpful book which will help you see Christ throughout the entire Old Testament. This book is certainly deep, but it is not overly difficult to read. I recommend it for every Christian.

Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Tom J. Nettles

Full disclosure: I haven’t had the chance to read this yet. It’s sitting on my shelf and I’m dying to get to it. But without even reading it I can tell it’s going to be an outstanding book. It’s obvious that Tom Nettles has immersed himself in Spurgeon’s life, and that this large book is the result of that total immersion. I am really looking forward to learning more about and being inspired by Charles Spurgeon.

MUSIC:

Instruments of Mercy by Beautiful Eulogy

Fantastic rap music blended with sound theology. As a fully suburbanized, middle-class, white guy I realize I’m not really up on what makes for good rap music. Nevertheless, I enjoy this album.

Forverly by Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones

Billie Joe Armstrong (lead singer of Green Day) and Norah Jones have collaborated to come up with a pretty cool album. It’s exactly folk, it’s not exactly country. It’s just good.

Comedown Machine by The Strokes

I’m a big fan of The Strokes, and their most recent album was not a disappointment. The electric guitar work is fantastic, the bass lines are outstanding, and the melodies are catchy. Definitely worth buying.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

The Ravings of a Drugged Man

Several days ago I stated that I would not be blogging this week due to the fact that I am recovering from reconstructive surgery on my ACL and happen to be on some pretty heavy duty pain killers and might accidentally write something that would embarrass my mom.

And I stand by that.

But the fact is, I’m getting really bored. I’ve watched approximately 1200 hours of Sportscenter this week, and I just need a break. So I thought I’d just post an update or something like that. Not any real blogging. Just something to give you a glimpse into my brain.

So in no particular order, here we go.

DISCLOSURE: If I make any statement that sounds disconnected from reality or mentions Area 51, I blame it on the medicine.

First, I’m really grateful for pain medicine. Were it not for the medicine, I’m pretty sure I would be weeping and gnashing my teeth throughout the day. However, I discovered that my body does not like particular pain medicines, such as Vicodin. After taking Vicodin I felt as if I were swaddled in a woolen Snuggie. Very hot and very itchy.

Second, I’m really, really grateful for my wife Jen. She has served me like an absolute superstar. Ever since the day of the surgery, she has waited on me hand and foot (what does it actually mean to wait on someone “hand and foot”?). If you’re going to have surgery on your ACL, I would recommend that you get married first. Also, my little girl Charis is also turning into quite the servant.

Third, I think sharp cheddar is the best cheese. Just in case you were wondering.

Fourth, it appears that not much reading happens on Planet Percocet. I have a big stack of books sitting next to me by the couch, but I’m not making much progress. I read a few sentences, squint my eyes thoughtfully, try to clear the fog from my brain, and then move on. So far I’ve read Goodnight Moon and Mr. Lumpy Goes to School.

Overall, I’m very grateful. Grateful that I live in a country where I could have my knee repaired. Grateful for my wonderful wife and daughters and parents and in-laws, who have all been serving me. Grateful for my normally good health. And most of all, grateful for Jesus.

I will leave you with these words of wisdom, which just came to me: If you have the choice between regular and decaf, always choose regular.

Why I’m Not Blogging For the Next Week

There comes a time in every man’s life when his body decides that it will no longer cooperate. It’s as if the body suddenly realizes that it’s an adult and that it can do as it pleases. Old guys seem to take a wicked pleasure in reminding young guys that their doom is just around the corner. Apparently my body has reached that point.

Several months ago I was playing basketball and I went up for a handspring McTwist helicopter dunk. I accidentally caught my foot in the rim and tore my ACL. On Friday I had my ACL surgically repaired, and now I am laying on my couch, watching television, and reading good books.

I would like to blog, but I am currently taking some heavy duty industrial pain killers. If I did blog I’m pretty sure I would end up writing something about elves, or the Illuminati, or how much I love the Jonas Brothers. So I’m going to take a week off.

See you next week!

What Should We Blog About?

I’m always looking for new ideas when it comes to blogging. So could you help me out?

  • What is one question that you would like to have answered?
  • What is one subject that you would like to see addressed?
  • Have there been any past posts that have struck a chord with you?
  • What blogs are your favorites that we could learn from?

Please take a minute to comment! We need your help!

Post #1,000 – How To Write A Killer Blog Post

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Inspirational photo suggesting that this blog post could radically change your life

Opening bold-faced question that challenges people’s assumptions about life, politics, and the state of their souls?

Bullet list that boils life’s most difficult problems into five simple steps:

  • Point so broad that the only people it doesn’t apply to are dead.
  • Powerful. Statement. Marked. By. Lots. Of. Punctuation.
  • Common sense thing that people already do anyway so that they feel like they’re already on their way to success.
  • “Profound sounding quote from a famous person.”
  • Inspirational concluding point suggesting that these steps have the power to turn you into the person you always wanted to be but never could be because of your bad skin complexion or awkward social skills.

Scripture reference which serves as a bridge between your insightful list and the rest of your life changing blog post.

John Piper quote to back up your scripture reference.

Reference to a current event that remotely ties into the subject of your blog post. The reference should either be a pop culture reference (LOST, 24, John Mayer), demonstrating that you’ve got your finger on society, or a reference to a controversial event (BP Spill), demonstrating that you are sensitive to issues that matter.

Bold-faced outlandish statement that again calls everything into question or challenges a well known individual.

Brief, pithy, italicized statement that people will use for Facebook and Twitter updates.

Short, personal, humorous anecdote that shows people that you’re human too. This works best when it includes a reference to your children or a trip you once took.

Rhetorical question?

Final, concluding paragraph that includes at least one well-crafted, artfully-designed, hyphen-packed phrase that will stick in people’s mind. Ending sentence that suggests that more will be said on this topic.

Request that this post be shared with the world on Facebook and Twitter.

Read Books, Not Blogs

My friend Tony and I have been having some good conversations about blogs. I like blogs. I write one for crying out loud. But Tony has freshly reminded me why I want to be reading much more from good books than I do from blogs. Here’s a few reasons why.

Books Require More Reflection From the Reader

When I sit down to read John Owen, my brain needs to be fully engaged. His deep theological arguments go on for pages and require intense thought and reflection. When I’m done reading Owen my ears are dripping brain fluid and my heart is warm with truth. Reading a good theological book is like having a deep heart-to-heart conversation with an incredibly godly person.

Generally speaking, blog posts are quick bites. Usually weighing in at 400 words are less, they don’t require the same type of intense, heart-searching thought. I want to read more books because they don’t pander to my television-created short attention span.

Books Are the Result of Much Reflection By the Writer

Writing a book is like giving birth, except without the intense pain and the hospitals and a baby at the end. Seriously though, writing a God-honoring book requires hours of hard work, deep thought, and prayer. They’re the result of many hours of meditation on the word of God. When I sit down to read a book by John Piper, I know that I’m reading the words of a man who has thought long and hard about what it means to follow Christ.

Blogs require much less work by the writer. On a good day I can bang out a blog post in thirty minutes. They’re not the result of two years worth of sermons or hundreds of hours hunched over the sacred text. I hope they’re rooted in scripture and encouraging to the saints. But books flow out of person’s life, blog posts flow out of a person’s current thoughts.

Books Bring Accountability

For a book to be published it must go through a gauntlet of tests. It must be approved by a publishing committee that trusts the author, it must be scrutinized by an editor, and it must be endorsed by reputable people. This process in a sense holds authors accountable.

Blog posts can be written by anyone at anytime in anyplace. No credentials needed. No accountability required. All behind the beautiful anonymity of the Internet.

So will I keep reading blogs? Certainly. But hopefully not at the expense of good books.

Important Changes to The Blazing Center

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Things are getting busy. In two months Jen and I will leave good ‘ol Indiana, PA to attend the Sovereign Grace Ministries Pastor’s College in Gaithersburg, MD. From what I understand, I will be kept pretty darn busy. When you combine that with other projects my dad and I are involved in, like song writing, professional wrestling, and snake handling, it makes for a busy life.

So with that in mind, we’ve decided that for the time being we’re going to cut back from five posts a week to three (not including weekend stuff like videos of Kobe Bryant jumping over pools of fire).

So stay tuned! If you haven’t yet subscribed to The Blazing Center, you can do that by clicking HERE. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some wrestling moves to practice.

photo by greg westfall

5 Traps Bloggers Fall Into

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I’m coming up on one year of blogging. In the year or so that I’ve spent blogging, I’ve realized that there are some traps that young bloggers like me can easily fall into. If you blog, or are considering blogging, you may want to think about these things. Learn from my mistakes.

Writing Without Doing

It’s so easy to write posts about what Christians should “do”, and yet not be doing those things myself. I encourage people to evangelize, read their Bibles, meditate on God’s word, be thankful, and to give cheerfully, and at times I can write in such a way that sounds like I’ve mastered these things, which is far from the truth. Before I encourage others to do these things, I want to make sure that I’m striving to do them first. Most of the time I should be saying, “Come and grow with me,” as opposed to “Hey, this is what you should do!”

Writing Without Thinking

Blogs are dangerous. A “profound” thought comes into your head, you bang it out on the keyboard, and then you hit the publish button. Suddenly your thought is out in cyberspace, able to be read by everyone and their mom. I’ve done it and then regretted it later. I want to think through a post before I publish it, ensuring that it’s biblical, humble, and God-honoring. Fortunately, I’ve got other people that read the blog who can hold my blog writing accountable.

Writing Arrogantly

It’s so easy to be an arrogant critic when I’m sitting in the comfort of my living room behind the anonymity of my laptop. If I’m going to criticize someone I want to do it humbly and gently, realizing that I’m only a 26 year-old guy with very limited life and ministry experience. My knowledge is limited, my understanding of a person’s motives is limited, and my heart is sinful. Those factors should temper any critique or evaluation I would provide. Obviously this doesn’t mean I don’t use discernment or that I accept everything someone says. But humility matters.

Writing Independently

A blog post is never written in a vacuum. Real people read them and they have a real effect on people’s lives. I need to remember this before hitting the publish button. Non-Christians will be stumbling onto my blog and reading my words. Will my words lead them to Christ or turn them away? Christians will read this blog and the words will have a real effect on their souls, either for good or for bad. If I use my blog as a place to complain or vent frustration, how will that effect other Christians? I want to consider how my words effect others.

Writing For Glory

It’s so easy to write for my glory. I want people to think I’m funny, witty, intelligent, brilliant, and unusually strong. I want lots of comments and lots of subscribers. It’s all pride and arrogance. My goal for this blog should be pointing others to Christ. I want the name of Christ to increase, not the name of Stephen. At times it’s helpful to step back and ask, “Why am I really doing this?”

Update: I neglected to mention when I first wrote this that the majority of these ideas came from a conversation I had with my dad, who in turn got some of these thoughts from his friend Dave Harvey. So let me give credit to whom credit is due. Dad, Dave, thanks for sharing your wisdom with the rest of us!

Help me out with this. What are some other traps that bloggers can fall into?