Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Read Out Loud and Other Writing Tips

Robert Farrar Capon is an Episcopal priest and has authored more than 20 books. While I often don't agree with his conclusions, he is better at putting words on a page than any other Christian author I've read since C.S. Lewis. I read The Foolishness of Preaching recently and Capon shares some of his tricks of the trade.

  • Read out loud. Read your own work out loud when you are in the editing process. It is easier to fool our eyes than our ears, and your writing will improve if you edit your work this way.
  • Always use concrete illustrations. Talk about football, not sports. Talk about real estate, not business. Talk about woodworking, not hobbies.
  • Take a break in the middle. Never stop writing at the end of a section, chapter, or paragraph. Stop yourself in the middle. When you come back, you will be able to pick up where you left off rather than stare at a blank page.
  • Write when others sleep. Whether you are a night person or a morning person, find a time when other people are sleeping to write. Phone calls, texts, and quick lunches won't interrupt you this way.
  • Adjectives pull punches. More often than not, adverbs and adjectives "pull punches rather than deliver them." Use sparingly.
Comment below if you have any other writing tips you would like to share.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Finally Alive

John Piper's work on eldership, salvation, and practical theology have shaped my beliefs as much as any other modern pastor. He is a Biblical thinker and one of the most important Christian authors in the modern era. The sheer amount of pages he has produced in his career is staggering. 

Finally Alive is one of his newest, and it is a great read for new Christians. Why should we be born again? How are we born again? What is the Holy Spirit's role in salvation? These, and many more questions regarding the new birth, are answered in this short book. I thought the best part of the book was the last section on sharing the gospel, How Can We Help Others Be Born Again? His Ten Encouragements for Gospel-Telling near the end of this section are very practical and were the highlight of Finally Alive.

Piper's numerous works understandably have a lot of overlap, but I think Finally Alive is one that contains enough new material to make it worth your while, even if you have read much of what he has put out already.  This book is geared towards those who would like to know more about being "born again." When people ask me which Piper books I recommend reading, I always recommend The Dangerous Duty of Delight first (this is the basically the cliff notes for Desiring God), and Don't Waste Your Life next. These books are short, readable, and life-changing. While Finally Alive may not be my first recommendation, it is certainly on the short list and would be a great one to pick up.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mindless Eating

I have been following a new business writer who recommended a few books on behavioral psychology that I picked up. Out of the ones I bought, this one looked like the easiest read so I tried it first. Reading a book about the psychology of eating may not sound very interesting, but Brian Wansink is a master of food and this book will entertain anyone who picks it up.

No matter how unusual the subject may be, I love finding an author who writes passionately and coherently about his field of expertise. Wansink does a great job of doing just that. He exposes myths, creates simple strategies, and dismantles conventional wisdom. Food is a powerful subject, and many Wansink's findings can be applied to other areas of life. One study he does is on the power of variety. To demonstrate, he tests how many M&M's people will eat at a superbowl party when given a bowl of M&M's. Half were given a bowl with 10 assorted colors, the other half with 7. The ones given the bowl with 10 ate, on average, over 100 calories more apiece!

If you are looking for a diet book that will tell you all about the latest fads, this one is not for you. If you are looking for a book that uses common sense and human understanding to progressively change your eating habits, a book that will help give you insight into human desire, and a book that is a whole lot of fun to read, this a great one.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian, Movie Tie-in Edition (The Chronicles of Narnia #2)
This is the second book in the Narnia series, and it is almost as good as the first. There are three things I really liked about it.

The first is how Lucy is able to discern Aslan before the others do and leads them until he becomes visible. This a great way to explain both a preacher's role in guiding others to Christ and a way to highlight the things that small children are aware of that we often miss. It is a good reminder, and a great part of the story.

The second aspect that I liked about this book is the timeframe of it. 1,000 or so years have passed in Narnia time since the first book. As we look at the world through the Pevensies eyes, much has changed for the worse. Just as the children try to right the wrongs they see and turn back the clock, Christians must do the same in our realm and pray Christ restores order to the world.

The third aspect I really enjoyed about this book is harder to describe . . . but I really like how Lewis gets away with writing this book exactly how he wants to. Lewis uses white magic, black magic, dryads, dwarves, wood goddesses, and even introduces Bromios and his maenads as part of Aslan's army in the eleventh chapter. I love that Lewis was able write this as he wanted, to speak with clarity and courage and put things on paper that would never fly if it were written today. Its refreshing to read Christian fiction that defies the boundaries of religiosity and really dives into true Christianity. Its hard to imagine a modern Christian writer getting way with half as much as Lewis does . . . we don't even let the secular authors like J.K. Rowling off the hook these days.

For the young, this is an exciting adventure tale that is told masterfully. For the mature, it is a fascinating and refreshing blend of theology and story. Definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

6 Best Reasons to Use Delicious

Delicious is a great social media tool that is often mistaken for "just" a place to store your online bookmarks. There are a ton of reasons to use Delicious, especially as an author. I have compiled a list of the 6 best reasons below.

It's easy. Download the Firefox browser, and add the Delicious extension. This allows you to tag any site you come across right from your browser. This functionality is what keeps me using Firefox over Google Chrome.

Online Bookmarks. You will always have access to your favorite pages, no matter what computer you are using to log on to the internet.

Tag Sharing. As you save sites to your Delicious account, you tag the sites with keywords. This not only allows you to find them again quickly, but also lets you share tags with others. Share all of your saved links on a certain subject, like Christian+Psychology. You can can also see others shared tags and quickly find sites similar to what you are looking for.

Brainstorm. If you come across an idea for a book (or a business, a recipe, a vacation, etc.), save the page and you won't forget. Finding an idea to write about can be an author's toughest task - Delicious makes it much easier.

Subscribe. This is a great tool to use on Delicious if you want to stay current on a subject. Just subscribe to keywords that interest you and whenever a site gets tagged that matches your criteria, you will know about it. You can also subscribe to your favorite users.

Audience Targeting. When you have narrowed down your idea for a book, business, etc., then search for those tags on Delicious. You will learn a lot about why people are interested in that subject. This can be your first step towards narrowing down your idea for a specific niche market, and you will have a much better idea who your audience really is.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia)

I grew up attending a private, Christian school and I was convinced that I had heard this story, and read it, enough times. I finally picked the book back up and was surprised how much I had forgotten and how many things I never picked up on before. 

This is a great book for all ages. For children, the story of Christ is presented in such a way that is easy to relate with and understand. For adults, C.S. Lewis has insights about who God is and how He relates to the world that will open your mind and heart. Using metaphor as a means to describe who God really is has fallen out of use, but it is a tool that can sneak around the most guarded defenses and penetrate souls better than any other. 

As I started the series again this time, I realized that the death and resurrection story would start the series. Many fantasy series contain this element, but normally as the climax to the series. Lewis includes it at the beginning. I don't know why he wrote the series this way, but I suspect it is because it reflects our own lives. The first thing we must learn about is Christ and his death and resurrection and saving power. Then we learn how God moved in the world before Christ, after Christ, and how He is moving now in our own lives. For that reason, even though I'm not done with the series yet, I like how Lewis starts with this story.

One of my favorite quotes is from this book, and it was great to read it in the full context again.

“He’ll be coming and going. One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

This is well worth reading again if you have not read it recently, no matter your age. It is a short, quick read and won't take you long at all to finish, but will stay with you long after you are done.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Writer's Block

This is a great little book if you are trying to exercise your creativity or just come up with some ideas for a story. I have found that just flipping to a random page often reminds me of past ideas I've had or helps me create new connections between subjects that I had not thought of before. It's most valuable for those focused on writing fiction, but is a tool all writers can use.

The only complaint I have is that it does not hold up well long term. I've had mine about 5 years, and its shape (literally a cube) does not hold up well after you use it a few times.

Below are 7 ideas that I flipped to randomly . . . out of the 786 available.

1. Write about a near-death experience

2. Deadline

3. Write a love story set in cyberspace.

4. Prophecy

5. If you could script the plot for the dream you will have tonight, what will it be?

6. Tell a story that centers around a recipe.

7. Write about your worst habit.

Get this book here. Enjoy, and if you have any tips about how you have overcome writer's block please share them in the comments below.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

If God Is Sovereign, Why Pray?

". . . we are not free to say: "Well, God is in control. He's sovereign, immutable, and omniscient, so whatever will be will be. There's no point in praying." Scripture universally and absolutely denies that conclusion. Instead, it affirms that prayer does effect change. God, in His sovereignty, responds to our prayers." (R.C. Sproul, The Prayer of the Lord, 118)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Calvin on Prayer

"But some will say, "Does He not know without a monitor, both what our difficulties are and what is meet for our interest, so that it seems in some measure superfluous to solicit Him by our prayers, as if He were winking or even sleeping until aroused by the sound of our voice." Those who argue in this way attend not to the end or the purpose for which the Lord taught us to pray. It was not so much for God's good, as it was for our good."(John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III Chapter 20)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Our Daily Bread

"So on the one hand, we have to trust in the benevolent providence of God to give us our daily bread, and on the other hand, we are to be industrious, doing all that we can to provide for our families. God typically works through means, and He normally provides through the means of our labor." (R.C. Sproul, The Prayer of the Lord, 68)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Your Kingdom Come

"Thus, when Jesus told his followers to pray, "Your kingdom come," He was making them participants in His own mission to spread the reign of God on this planet so that it might reflect the way God's reign is established in heaven to this day." (R.C. Sproul, The Prayer of the Lord, 46)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hallowed Be Your Name

"By placing this as the first petition of the Lord's Prayer, Jesus was giving it a place of priority. He was saying that a proper attitude toward God's name is the basis of everything, because how we live before God is determined by our attitude toward Him and our view of who He is.

. . . Before God's kingdom can come to earth the way it has already come to heaven, and before His will can be done on earth the way it is done right now in heaven, the name of God must be hallowed." (R.C. Sproul, The Prayer of the Lord, 36-37)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Remember Who You Are

"That is, the first thing you are to remember in prayer is who it is you're talking to, because nothing will condition your prayer life more deeply than remembering that you're in conversation with God, the sovereign Creator and Ruler of the universe. Second, you are to remember who you are. You are not God. You are a creature. So prayer is not a conversation between peers; it is not a fireside chat among equals. this is the creature speaking to his sovereign Creator." (R.C. Sproul, The Prayer of the Lord, 15)