writing things down…


Scot McKnight has recently written a nice blog post about writing. I am at once inspired and conflicted. First the inspiration:

Scot writes, “writing is a lifestyle, a way of life, a way of being, a modus operandi, a way of breathing and eating and drinking. Better yet, writing is a way of learning, a way of coming to know what someone wants to know, a way of discovering.” Later he notes, “writing isn’t done on the side. It’s in the soul, it’s a way of being…”

I want to develop this sort of lifestyle. I dream of writing articles and reviews. At the very least, I dream of writing more consistently on the blog. And so the conflict sets in. Scot offers sage advice for “young professors”. Or, rather, he points out a couple of mistakes “young professors” make.

The first and biggest mistake, Scot says, “is the (almost always) mistaken notion that they will write during the summer break full-time or they’ll wait until the Christmas break or over the Spring Break.” The second mistake is that young professors too often begin by trying to write a book instead of beginning with smaller pieces (articles, reviews, even blog posts!). The smaller pieces allow the young professors to develop a habit of writing.

I have several difficulties with these “mistakes”. On the one hand, I am keen to try to avoid them. But, while I am relatively young, I am only an adjunct professor, which means I must either be married to someone making enough money to support us, living in fairly extreme poverty with no insurance, or holding down a “real” job elsewhere. I have chosen the latter. So, most quarters I teach a class or two (only at night and/or online) and work full time in an assistant administrative position. Time outside of the 40-hour-per-week job is usually taken up with class prep and grading, not to mention the recent season of job hunting. I also try to make space for family, church and social activities. Where does writing fit into this? Maybe a blog post every 7-10 days–substantive posts are even further apart!

But, I think I must begin with these smallest of pieces. When I find the time (or make the time, as the case may be), I would like to write more formal pieces. I’ve mentioned before that I would like to write a formal review article on the two theological commentaries. I am just not sure when that will be. I want to avoid the mistake of saying I will wait for a break, but I really do need a break!
In addition to the conflict of time, I am also conflicted by couple of other things Scot brings up. First, Scot differentiates between writers who write about what they know (ex. F. F. Bruce) and those who write about what they don’t know (ex. Jimmy Dunn). The former produce textbooks; the latter suggestions, innovations, explorations, and experiments. Which of these am I? It is still too early to know. I really don’t know a whole lot, so I do not fit into the former category. There is a lot that I don’t know, ans so, I suppose writing about those things might be good. However, I think that one must know a good deal before one can write well about what one does not know. It is easier, though, to begin writing about what I don’t know. It could be that I simply write about the things as I learn them myself. Or, it could be that I write about things as I would enter a conversation–ask questions when I am confused and offer opinions when I have something to add.

Second, Scot ends his post with the following: “[writing is] not for everyone. It’s a scribbler’s itch to get it down.” Do I have this itch? What if I don’t? Am I doomed before I even get to the “young professor” stage? Are there ways other than writing that one can “begin the day in the mind wondering how best to express a thought”?

The conflict about time is really a conflict of priorities. What do I value enough to fill my time with it? There are some adjustments I can make, but in the end at this point I don’t have the time I would like to have to write. I think Scot’s advice to start small is sound practical advice for me. Even with little time, habits of writing can be developed. The other conflicts are conflicts about me, who I am. Do I have a writer’s itch, and if I do what sort of writer might I be? I am not aware of an overwhelming writer’s itch. I do have a sense that I want to be a part of some very interesting conversations, and in that way there may be an itch that I need to scratch. I am also not aware of what sort of writer I may be. Am I better at dissemination of stored knowledge? Or, am I better at analysis, critique, questioning, suggesting, etc? I do not think these two styles are necessarily exclusive of one another. Scot’s advice about starting small is once again sound. This time it is sound not so much for practical reasons but for stylistic reasons. With smaller pieces writers can begin to develop or nurture the style that is theirs.

Now the question is, what do I write about?


1 Comment»

  Tyler Watson wrote @

I too liked McKnight’s post. I also like Tony Jones’ statement in his post about writing his book:

“But, as I was told years ago, there’s a three-word formula to writing a book: Ass In Chair.”

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