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Logo of Generation. Youth. Christ.

16 - How to Excel as a Christian Writer

Clifford Goldstein Esther Louw

Recorded

  • July 14, 2019
    8:00 AM
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Writing is a craft that has been used by God since most is penned the book of Genesis however not all writing is equal high this is asked into you're listening to the learn and share podcast in this episode I talked with Clifford Goldstein about how you can write with excellence. Thank you so much for being with us today well they're called scene so I just wanted to kind of introduce this topic they're going to be talking about today and that is writing and how to develop your crap does a writer and really utilize that church How did you get involved and start writing as a young person well. I guess even from the time I was young I know I like to write new and then pretty young I knew I wanted to be a writer and I had done a lot of writing and I wasn't a particularly good stupid you know but I was good in English and I never I used to write papers and sometimes the teachers used to think I copied it or something and but I wrote and you know and then I wanted to be a fiction writer before I became an avenue and I just I studied creative writing at college which is fine but if you really you know if nobody can teach you how to write people can guide you and help you I might be able to guide someone and help them a little bit but in the end if you have a natural gift and I could study music for the rest of my life maybe I'll be an OK musician I could study art for the rest of my life and maybe I could do OK again but I just don't. You know I don't have gifts in that area but if you have a gift in the writing in the end you teach you teach yourself by just writing and just I wrote and wrote and wrote and over time I just it started to develop and I've been writing now professionally for over 35 years and I'm still learning and I'm still developing my craft so I don't think it's one good thing about I don't think you ever stop stop doing it's a really in many ways the there are 2 keys Well there's a few points. You he's got to have an innate gift if you have it you probably know if you do you know some people could deceive themselves but if you've got the innate gift you'll know it to the other thing it's very important to read and we can come back to that later but I think the bottom line in the end is you just have to write and you have to be hard on yourself and you've gotta put yourself and you've got to take chances and you've got to be willing to just throw something out and start again and you gotta push yourself but those are basic things I think in terms of writing you can develop as a writer All right you're just talking about an overview journal thing enterprise or but why is writing important to you Well I mean for me I mean I'm an admin ists see it was funny when I before I got converted when I was writing fiction. And I was working on a novel you know and I realized I didn't really have anything to say that anybody would really care about but I just wanted to create something beautiful with words and art for art's sake for nothing else and then after I became an Ab The NIST I realized Wow I had a lot to say you know we got this beautiful message and I wanted to get it out there and then in the Lord's Providence R.I. there was quite a bit of time about a year and a half or I hadn't really do much writing Lord had to take it away from me and then the door open for me to start writing and I just been writing ever since then but it's almost everything I do I like to do for the church I know the words I have a message to get out there and I know of and no better way than through writing I mean there's the spoken word of course but the written word it's very people could pick it up any time so it's really I do want to write for the glory of God I do want to write to help people to understand the truth that we've been given so I like how you can't talk about like it's a message it's a purpose like you have a mission statement for your writing. You know well I mean I want to write truth you know I want to write what I'm saying I want to do I mean I realize you know I've been publishing now for 35 years and I can go back and look at things I wrote decades ago and I could cringe a little I think you could see not that anything was necessarily wrong but you grow you mature I mean if I believe the same way now that I believe 35 years ago there'd be a problem but oh yeah I do we've got this message I do want to get it out to people wonderful So I'm actually reminded just listening to say about that the passage of it says you know how are they here without a preacher so in an inner way a writer is a preacher. And in the same way that Paul was a preacher for 2000 years of history in the present but because he wrote it down we can all benefit and hear what he had to say. Having looked at kind of like your message in the purpose and why it's important to you. How did you kind of take that gift that you called it and really wrestled with yourself to to really fashion your writing into something that other people would want to read well I you know I think it and it just comes down to basic The just basic cool. Skills basic techniques for writing you know I often tell people so I said number one you just need to one point thing for a writer is to read a particular If you're a nonfiction writer OK it's just read we read anything you're interested in just read and ideally read good writers read you know there's a whole thing about reading fiction you know and all that much to get that I just when I find good writers I lack on to them and I have and I read them closely and probably some of the best writing in English it is I think in English is The New Yorker Magazine editor of The New Yorker is absolutely stunningly brilliant and I got it for years I kind of just got a little bored with it and I had so I stopped most of my magazine is but the only other Magnum get now is I get the New York Review of Books and it was amazing to me almost instantly and the New York Review of Books is high falutin stuff but I noticed a difference in the writing the quality of writing so find somebody to really like so and just but just I say read we not even so much for reading good writers to learn from them but Europe I'm afraid nonfiction writer I am constantly producing I'm constantly so I've got the time stint we've put stuff in I'm constantly putting stuff in because it's constantly gong me out so read read broadly and then the other thing too which with writers I say there's nothing neutral in writing. Every word every paragraph every comma Eleanor get me started punctuation I can go not so I love punctuation fact I tell you there's a book I read just for the punctuation but nothing if your word you're your article your sentence your paragraph if it's not editing there's nothing neutral if it's not adding to what you you know the point you want to make it's taking away so particularly for a beginning writers you know subtract subtract I remember one time years ago I had worked very hard on an article for the avenues review and it needed I recently wrote at 3 pages magazine pages and the editor came back and said look we ran out of space we only have 2 pages so I had to cut 30 percent of the article and I had a much better article when it was done that and and if you're a serious read it you will find sections that you will love and you'll think you will love it it's is beautiful frozen the images and all that but then deep down if you read it you'd know if you're going to know you're going to be better without it you've got to have the guts to cut it to cut it you've got it's painful process but you've got to learn just hair down hair down and just get to the meat of it and the other thing too that's crucial. It has to flow logically you know I edit the Sabbath school color Lee in many ways I don't care if it's bad theology I can fix the theology it's not rocket science and I even care if it's bad writing you know for the most part I can fix the righty but if it doesn't follow logically it's death I don't edit of things I chop the mountain start right from something from scratch so you've got to make sure your thoughts flow point to point to point Ideally it almost be as tight as an algebra equation or as a math equation or that's the ideal that's the ideal that you've got to strive for you know there's a certain amount of just art history in there and there's a certain amount where sometimes the rules don't apply and if you could pull it off if you could break every rule and the you could pull it off and make it work more power to you but most of us pretty much have to try to fall the rules and everything to do with writing is. I do love punctuation in fact there's a book I've read it twice and it's about something about one of a famous copy editor at The New Yorker the woman's name is Mary Norris and the book is called Between you and me and it's basically a grammar book but I really I've read the book twice it's the only book I've read I just watch how they punctuate how she punctuated and it's brilliant and I'd say you're a serious writer when you want to learn about writing and in punctuation is a very big part of it punctuation to make you break it and between you and me by Mary NORRIS It's a it's it's brilliant So there are some other grammar books I could record but in the end. Really you need to just write and you need to be hard on yourself and then ideally if you could find someone. Someone whom you look I'm 63 years old I've been writing for decades I would love. To find someone who could hammer me who could come at me and say you know this is no good in your lazy you know and this and that and I needed up I beat it up because again I think you you can always improve you can but as I don't really have that I have to do it to myself and you'll never be a good Raider unless you are willing to be hard on yourself and you're willing to push yourself and you will want to take chances and you're willing to be. Critiqued you know if you can find somebody who knows what they're doing so anyway that's just a few going to go ahead that's awesome that I'm just hearing like several main ideas one is as does reading broadly and reading Yat to get content to write about and the other is that I'm learning and getting a grammar solid with punctuation especially and critiquing yourself and any others pretty good writing with yeah OK that's you got you really are but coming back to reading as an Adventist how you figure out like you know what what is a good writer and what writing should you read because I'm not going to tell you an impact I'm not going to tell you that you've got to do that your own self I mean I probably read something some people want want to read and maybe I'm wrong maybe a while I read broad I read all sorts of things I will find every now and then I'll find something that it just bothers me and I don't feel comfortable reading it and I will put it down I will you know muddle up but I generally don't go to the I don't read trash I don't read trashy stuff stupid stuff you know I try to read serious books by serious authors and you know sometimes there's a language in it or whatever but I I know I'm very I'm a very I'm a snob about what I read I truly and if it doesn't if I'm reading something and it's not written at a level I just want to read it I mean I remember a while back I don't read science fiction but I had or there was and there was are for something I had been writing there was a science fiction book out called The Man in the High Castle and they made a T.V. show about it and it was and that was Do it was alternative history what would have happened in such and such happened I thought you know I'm going to read this fine read about 10 pages. And it wasn't it was wasn't that the topic to this is just substandard writing I just don't have time to waste my time reading that now that can sound very snobbish and maybe it is but I'm a professional writer I know I got so many hours in a day OK So so you have to decide for yourself but you'd want to try to find you know if you're up to reading fiction there are some I mean the most of the stuff is garbage but I don't know how any Christian writer you know you need to read Spiegel like Dostoevsky or Tolstoy read something or they write about religious themes these themes are there and they're brilliant writers and you can learn from them they touch they struggle with themes about God and evolution and faith and so on again I I can't tell you if you're not comfortable don't read it don't we all don't read it but you do need to bring as a right you've got to broaden yourself you've got to things to draw from and then you could poll from it oh I just read read read insatiably I've been doing it all my life and I have no doubt it makes me a better writer because that's really awesome. As from my own perspective I think I am a great reader and I read a lot and really you know what good thing I can relate to a lot of that. But when you come to the actual writing stage how do you know that what you have is good. How do you know that you just think so well I know because I'm not well put it this way. I'm not going to turn it is. Until I'm convinced it's good I'm not going to oh I do I should say I do certain things I sometimes write for the money OK I'll be frank OK I'm doing it for the money but it's rare most of the time I will not turn something in talk I feel really good about it and then the peaceful thing is and I could say this I did say this I mean you could take the best thing I've ever and I think I have ever written are pick it up 6 months later and all cringe and I'll wish I'll say I think I could be my best or if I could put it away for 6 months and go so even when I'm and I don't turn I work hard I work hard on my stuff I joke with people the golden prose just doesn't flow out I do believe I'm a better writer now than I've ever been I believe my writing is getting better and I even had somebody whom I really respect once say that to me and I felt good about that I thought I could for somebody like that but you could but again I still said I could take the best thing I've done in a good editor will make it better I have no doubt that and sometimes when I'm done with something. And I turn it in and then after it's published and I look at it later and I thought well I wish some editor would pick that up I when I get the distance nothing I do when I'm done I can read it later think Man I wish why did I let that go how did I And she sort of problems too was I go over and over and over and sometimes you get so close you can't see it so really in some ways the best thing is to put it aside but in the end in the end only you can teach yourself how to write but you've got to discipline yourself and you've got to be willing to be hard on yourself if you do that and you've got a gift if you have a God given gift it will come out but it will come out you know and it just takes time it just takes time that's all I can say it just takes time so paying up on what you just said about discipline. I want to tell it change tack a little bit and just talk about dealing with writer's block and scheduling yourself how do you kind of get that self made of I don't deal with writer's block OK I'm sorry I just don't I mean sometimes a comes easier than others but ice I had when I was in college I studied creative writing secular college and I had this creative writing teacher he's dead now was named Harry crucial. Well known writer you know in his day in age I mean his books were I used to think if I didn't think I was going to be a better writer than Harry cruise I want to be even bothered you know Ari's dead now but every now and then things Harry Crews said to me even when I'm writing fiction would come back to me and basically. One of the things he said was You gotta put shift self in the chair and right and you gotta pay you do that's what Harry Knox Oh you've got to pay your dues and you got the block you just sit bare and just kill it unblocks And if you wait oh you know you can get up make yourself a sandwich or something come back but I mean sometimes it's easier than others but I'm a professional I've been doing it a long time OK so I'm writer's block. Generally I don't struggle with that I'll get something out and then I won't stop until I think it's good now it might be trash you know I might be totally deceiving myself but I won't turn it in I won't stop till I'm convinced that it's a decent piece and as I said though when I get the distance I get the distance from some eyes of a more maybe you really are deceiving yourself if it was weird because I had one friend as a writer and I was really sort of surprised as I put my stuff down 6 months later after it's out I think when I write that it's pretty good I haven't. Ever had that experience I look at it 6 months later and I thought. How did I let that go why then I do something different you know but anyway that's me you know I'm giving I'm telling you look this works for me everybody's different you got to get comfortable in your own skin but you've got to read. And you've got to write and you've got to be your own harshest critic and push yourself take a chance because you know again to have your writing for the church. It's a little I remember when I got done when I got converted and I started writing for the church now I was a fiction writer and I was you know even already looks paramount and then suddenly. Not only am I writing nonfiction which you know fiction your books brought It was then nonfiction and then a writing for this church and suddenly in the beginning I found myself just a week by the program I thought Oh my goodness and it was exceedingly frustrating to me and then finally I said OK these are the parameters these are the quote rules I'm going to through the grace of God I'm going to do my best to work within those parameters so that you know I don't remember exactly I don't remember how exactly we got there and that but the lights of what worth while thought for whatever yeah as a young person who might be listening to this podcast and they are writing stuff that they think is good but they haven't got it published so how would you go from just writing and improving your craft just kind of writing to the making that leap through publishing getting articles out well you know. Then one day the day and age of the Internet's positive and negative. You know printing and all that is going down the the rat hole in a lot of ways but on the other hand you know there are a lot of church publications you know the review the on line review neat stuff all the time and you can start publishing online and get your neighbor out there I mean those people they want if you give them I know because I work for them I've had a column for the review for 25 years I've been writing from probably the longest running columnists now except they have who is that woman there was a woman had a collar I forgot her name now Miriam weary I'm would have some had a column for 50 years or something some long time I've been writing for 25 years but what you need to do you need to fear a young writer and you're interested start just looking for the you know some of the I think be careful with some of the blogs you don't want to taint yourself you don't want to taint yourself as some of those blogs out there and left wing or right wing OK but I know for existence the admin is review. They've got their home they've got their page they're constantly if you could produce some straight you know stuff well you have a very good chance of getting it in the administration and that's how you get your name out there and then we've got the publishing house and you know the Pacific press and I know that eventually the review is going to become a publishing house so if you there the church does need good writers it doesn't need so if you've got a gift and you're working at it I think if you don't get discouraged you know you just got you've got it and how do I say this in a way you know you've got to do this under the assumption you know God is the one in whom we live move and have our being and every gift every breath in your hand is God's breath you know your breath is in God's hand even in that context you have to have a certain degree you've got to believe in yourself and I know that sounds very un-Christian and I don't mean in that way you've just got to believe all that God you've given me a gift and I'm working hard to hone it in and I want to do your will if it's your will you know will you given me this if there's to be a certain bit of that you know they're asked to be a certain amount of that because even if you get crucified out there you get crucified because you're putting yourself on the line and you're out there and when you publish when you screw up everybody sees it and trust me I know I know so anyway how do you think take from that maybe writing a couple of things for their you or whatever other Abbotts publications out there is a possible to have a career as a writer in the administration which. Yeah you know they there are places where they need you know our publishing house and you know it's I mean there's not hundreds of it and I guess our colleges could be used teachers writing teachers and yet you do need to find a way to earn a living well trying to earn you know I'm been writing professionally hone my skills over the decades but I don't know if I could earn a living just purely writing alone it's just not easy and and then I look at the books that sell like the bestsellers I walk into a bookstore. And I flipped through the bestselling books and you don't want to write that stuff you know what you don't want to do that you know so it is but you need a day job right publish write and write and write and try to publish or that you can and if the Lord opens the way you know that would be you know great but there is a need for good Christian writing out there and there is a need in the Avenues church for it as well. Just kind of as we wrap up. Could you maybe just call out for those writers who are listening and just kind of appeal to them to really spend time on this gift that God has given them and just what would you have to say to somebody well again I'd say you could have a natural gift. But you gotta pay you do you've gotta work at it in god to hone it in you've got to write and rewrite and rewrite and if it doesn't sound like quite the quite the way you want it don't stop till you get it the way you do and don't you do it does sound right till you're happy with it and then and honestly happy with it now you know I push my eyes off I don't stop until I have it the way I want it to be now maybe it's no good maybe it's no good but I don't stop until then and then don't be afraid to cut to cut in most cases when you cut what you have when you're done is going to be better in most cases anyway and then read good stuff thank you so much. Thanks for listening don't forget to hit subscribe and share this episode with your friends to learn more check us out at learn and share podcast dot com.

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