Andrew J. Camenga

The Purusit of Superb Writing

Superb writing enchants, informs, and persuades readers. Some authors create superb writing with such consistency that they make the imagined production process simple. They sit. They write. Beauty emerges.

There are accounts of authors who felt inspired and had book-length material just come to them1. Yet, those accounts depict unusual circumstances—they are held up as wonderful abberations in a world filled with writing as work. Instead of picturing writing as a walk in the park, many authors depict writing as a arduous process, fraught with writer’s block, distractions, and multiple edits. In other words, for many if not most who write, writing is simply hard work.

Writing is hard because it usually requires deep, clear thinking and beautiful articulation. Superb writing is hard because it requires an understanding of the reader and a willingness to go multiple times through the process of mangling good prose in the pursuit of execellence.

I want to become a superb writer. I’ve seen the value of superb writing. I’ve become convinced that I will never have a chance to produce such writing unless I am willing to work dilligently at writing and refining what is written. I believe that writing is an exercise that can force me to come face-to-face with my own shallow thinking and encourage me to engage with the world in more meaningful ways.

But this conviction that I should write more has caused me to face an intriquing reality:

I have been actively not writing for years.

This actively not writing was unintentional. I did not decide, “I will avoid writing.” I did not say, “You know writing is not for me.”

Instead, I’ve ofthen thought, “I should write about …”. But the writing never happened. In retrospect, I drifted into a pattern, I organized life in a way which meant that I would never find time to write.

I even hid the reality: From time to time, I’ve typed somewhat longer responses to posts on Facebook or Twitter. I’ve helped create materials for a Sabbath School class. I’ve pulled together an article or two for the Sabbath Recorder and written a few lessons for the Helping Hand in Bible Study.

But, even with those small pieces, I have been actively not writing for years.

I preach on a regular basis. I pray. I study. I create notes. I gather illustrations. I craft outlines. I design key sentences. I ponder. I imagine. I pray more. I listen more. And then I speak. Some weeks my notes are little more than five sentences that provide the structure to move the sermon from start to finish. Other weeks the notes are more extensive 2.

I’ve treated the sermon as an oral document and relied—for better or worse—on an extemporaneous model for delivery. Much of what would go into writing is included in this sermon preparation process, but not the actual writing.

That is because I have been actively not writing for years.

I have been unwilling to exercise the discipline required to write well. I have not pushed through the creation of an awful first draft to provide a path for editing toward adequacy.

This unwillingness has been driven by at least three realities:

In the end, these realities are not valid reasons to avoid writing.

So, while I have been actively not writing for years, I believe the time has now come to change that—to engage in writing.

For now, I will fall far short of superb writing. But, the time has come. And so it begins, slowly, falteringly, …

  1. For instance, the rough draft of A. W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God was written on a train ride from Chicago to Texas.

  2. These notes look much more like the notes for the first and, as of this writing, only sermon posted to the site.

  3. This conviction undercuts any desire to devote significant time to writing. If someone else is already saying it, saying it better, and saying it to a larger audience, the what is the point?

  4. I prefer reading authors who openly weigh evidence, acknowledge differences, and then proceed to explain their position, how they arrived at it, and why that position makes a difference. I’ve assumed my willingness to let discordant ideas linger in the same space would necessarily undermine an ability to write in the manner I most prefer.

  5. Of course, actively not writing for ego reasons is itself an ego-driven decision. Self-awareness can create ridiculous and unhelpful loops.