8 Tips on Writing We Can Learn from John Piper
John Piper is a mighty force with his pen.
He was the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for 33 years, and the author of over 50 books, including the classic Desiring God.
John is a master communicator in the pulpit and with his pen. Whether you’re a seasoned author or just beginning to consider writing a book for the first time, listen up! Here are eight writing tips from John on writing a book.
1. Ask yourself, “Am I called to write?”
“[the call to write] is a recurrent, not temporary; long-term, not short-lived; compelling, not merely interesting; benevolent, not selfish; Christ-exalting, not self-exalting desire to write, which proves fruitful in the lives of others.”
Do you sense this kind of calling? Then write!
2. Plan a block of time to write regularly
“Plan a block of time that you can commit to regularly. For me that was every day, six days a week, from about nine in the morning after devotions and exercise and breakfast — so about nine in the morning until about seven in the evening with maybe a half hour off for lunch.”
Not everyone has the luxury of extended periods of focused time to write. But if you can block time out, take it! Writing requires focus.
3. Start writing to find what you’re writing
“The actual process of writing is the most important key to the door of knowing what you think about this topic. People think they get that backward. The actual process of writing is the most important portal by which new light shines into your mind on a topic.”
When writing, you will often discover what you’re really writing about only after you begin writing. Don’t let these times of discovery discourage you, it’s all part of the process.
4. Keep track of new ideas
“As I am writing, I have got underneath this Word document another document called ideas. And I am flipping back and forth all the time jotting down ideas that later could be dealt with because, when I write, my mind just becomes fertile. And until I write, it is one big mess.”
Keeping a dumping ground for your ideas helps. You may not end up using some of the ideas that come spontaneously for the book you’re working on. But it may spawn new ideas for another project. Remember, keep and catalog everything. It may come in handy later.
5. Say out loud what you’re writing
“…most people unconsciously hear your words in their head. That is the way most people read. And you are writing for most people. If those words that you have on paper flow with effective sound and rhythm and pacing and cadence and balance and parallels and images, then the act of reading will be clearer and much more enjoyable.”
Some of the best, most readable books feel conversational. An obvious exception would be an academic work. But most non-fiction books should feel natural, like a good conversation. If you read your material out loud and it feels robotic, chances are you will need to change the tone.
6. Be willing to scrap your original idea
“It took me almost to the end of six weeks before I gave up on my initial conception. When gave it up, I said, ‘Okay, this is the book I intended to write. It is not the book I am going to write. I am going to get rid of that idea and do what I am really doing.’”
Writing is a discovery process. It’s not uncommon to realize in the middle of your project that you’re writing something different than what you set out to write. Just remember, don’t force your topic. Let it come naturally.
7. Beware of overdoing your research
“Perfectionists rarely write books. They are too busy reading everything. Realize that your book will be one small contribution. Humble yourself. You are not writing the final book. And that is a great liberator. No book says it all, so don’t suspend your writing indefinitely while you research something to have the last word on it.”
The writing process will always require additional research. But if there’s more to learn, and gaps to fill in order to make the argument of your book complete, put it on the back-burner. Yes, do your research on the front-end knowing there’s more to discover. But when you’re in writing mode, write. Come back to further research in future drafts. Otherwise, you’ll short-circuit the writing process.
8. Stay focused on what you’re writing
“I love the image that a big, big, big tree will fall over with chop, chop, chop, chop — a thousand chops. And the focus is, Can I sink the axe in this time just as good as I can sink it? And tomorrow I am sinking it again. The next day I am sinking it again. That tree is going to fall if you have the discipline to keep doing what is in front of you.”
Writing a book is no small task. But with these writing tips, you’ll get that much closer to your goal.
For more tips on how to write a book, download Writing Tips Checklist: 25 Essential Steps to Writing a Book for free.