• Dana L. Butler

About Writing: Connecting the Dots Between the Technical and the Spiritual

“Don’t just practice your art, but force yourself into its secrets. For it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.” -Beethoven

This is crazy.

All this “technical” stuff I’ve learned about writing over the last year?  It’s been the section of this series that I’ve least looked forward to writing.

Yet I’ve found myself coming alive inside as I’ve hashed out this piece– like, really ALIVE.  Writing about writing.  The technical, nitty-gritty, often-grueling STUFF of writing.

I’ve found I’m actually quite passionate about all this “dry” technical stuff.

Ergo, this will now be a 2-part piece.

This is very weird and totally shocking to me.

But upon contemplation, I think this is the reason writing this piece has moved me so deeply:

In intentionally developing my technical ability to do something that brings life to my heart, something inside me is unlocked and I’m released to more freely, fully be who I am.

I’ve learned that investing time, getting training, and honing my craft can be acts of worship and faith.

And somewhere between now and the end of next week’s post, I’ll explain why.

Okay.  Here we go.

{Pssssst–if you’ve missed pieces of this series, you can get caught up right here.}

From middle school through my college experience, I considered myself a good writer.  Others thought so too.  But through most of my 20’s, I didn’t write regularly except in my journals.

In 2008 I began blogging just to keep our family up on our lives.  Writing wasn’t a craft for me then.  I wrote casually.  I was wordy.  I was definitely not thinking about honing my writing skills.

And in 2012 when I began blogging much more intentionally, trying to share the deep things God was speaking and doing in my heart, I still wrote in a similar style.  I approached my writing casually.  Still a bit wordy.  And oh, the ellipses. (… … … …) 

Embarrassingly, it didn’t really occur to me that I could be doing anything better, in terms of the technical aspects of my writing.

How I Learned I Had a Lot to Learn

Then?  Enter Emily Freeman.

Bless her heart.  She lives in my hometown, and we have quite a few mutual acquaintances.  We got to know each other a little over email, and then last spring when I was home visiting family, we met for coffee.

And she– um– told me very graciously and lovingly that I had a lot to learn.  Like I said– bless her heart.

I mean, ouch a little.  But I’m so glad she said it.

She pointed me toward Jeff Goins’ Tribe Writers course.  I took it.  It was perfect for me.  Hugely helpful.

While all Jeff teaches about finding your niche and defining your “tribe” is wonderful, the things that I found monumentally helpful– were the lessons on the technical aspects of writing.

I learned to view writing as a craft, instead of a casual hobby.

Between a few very gracious coaching emails from Emily and this course from Jeff Goins, my writing has been transformed.  (At least I think it has.  Maybe a few of you who’ve been around a while could attest to this? :))

What I’ve Learned

SO.  Without further ado, let me share a few technical keys that have revolutionized my mindset about writing.

  1. All good writing is re-writing.  ALL. of. it.  This made me so frustrated when I first heard it from Jeff Goins.  But if you’re throwing up blog posts that are written quickly, under pressure, with little-to-no editing or trimming (like I was)?  Then what you’re producing is less than your best.  Guaranteed. (I’ll share more specific details on my writing and re-writing process in next week’s post.)

  2. Write tight. As often as possible, keep sentences short.  Determine what you’re actually trying to say with each sentence and each paragraph.  If a word or phrase or paragraph is fluff, cut it.  [The Dana-definition of fluff: anything that’s not crucial to the core message of a piece.]

  3. Write with subheadings.  Every so often [maybe every 200-300 words], insert a subheading.  It will help you hone and clarify (both for yourself and for your readers) the main message of each section of your blog post or article.

  4. There is such a thing as “wasting your readers’ time.”  Ouch.  I struggled with this idea.  How could any form of honest expression of my heart be a waste of my readers’ time?  But truly, we all have a bazillion blogs clamoring for our attention.  Consistently trying to keep my writing tight and to-the-point is like saying to my readers: “I get that your time is valuable.  I value your readership and your presence in my space.”  If readers know I value their time, they’re a lot more likely to be frequenters of my space.  More likely to receive what I have to say.

  5. This stuff from Jeff Goins about writing titles/headlines that grab attention.  He said it well– just read it.  It’s gold.

  6. As a general rule, break up long paragraphs into shorter ones.  3-4 lines is a good length.  When a person is reading on a computer screen, it’s easier to track if paragraphs are short.

  7. Generally, don’t use ellipses.  I already confessed that my writing before was full of them.  Emily called me on it, and I’m so thankful.  She told me it was the first thing an editor (as in, an editor from a publishing company) would notice.  With rare exceptions, ellipses make writing sound weaker, less confident– like you may or may not be certain of what you’re communicating…? 😉

  8. For every piece you write, determine a bottom line (or 2 or 3 main points, perhaps).  What is the core message you’re trying to get across?  AND– try to word it succinctly and creatively so it will be memorable.  Try rhyming a little. Use (brief) imagery.  Use contrast.  Ann Voskamp is a master at this.  Her bottom lines almost always stick in my gut.  Definitely not trying to be her, but we can certainly glean from her in this arena.

If It Feels Like A Lot, Hang In There

Okay.  If you’re overwhelmed, take a breath.  Next week I’ll discuss the fact that many “writing rules” are made to be broken– and why/when it’s appropriate to do so.

And let me clarify– I am by no means claiming any sort of writing expertise.  Ha– the idea is laughable.  I’m still such a beginner.  My journey toward writing with excellence is by no means over.  Ever.

But I’ve experienced a real transformation in my approach to blogging, to writing in general, and here I am, sharing it with y’all.  Because it’s a real part of “What I’ve Learned in 1 Year of {serious} Blogging.”

So, next week, I’ll continue connecting the dots between the technical and spiritual aspects of writing.  Because they are SO connected.  Inseparable, really, if you’re a blogger/writer with a message burning in your heart.

And the funny thing is even this ultra-technical writing stuff, and the connection between it and the spiritual?  These ideas all apply across the board, to other pursuits, other talents and passions.  Because discovering what makes us come alive, and investing the time to learn to do it well?  It’s worship to Him.

So, in the meantime, grace and peace to you my friends, wherever today finds you.  I love your companionship on this journey.

PS. As always, I appreciate your feedback.  If you’re reading via email or a reader, click here if you’d like to hop over and comment.  And, also as always?  I so appreciate your presence here, whether you comment or not.  You are a profound blessing, friend.

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