7 Writing Tips from Brett McCracken

Since I enjoy podcasts and I enjoy writing, it’s not a shock that I enjoy podcasts about writing. One of my favorites is the Home Row podcast, hosted by J.A. Medders.

Brett McCracken (author and editor at The Gospel Coalition) was the guest on a recent episode. Toward the end of the episode, Medders asked McCracken for his best writing advice. The advice was so good, I thought I’d jot it down here. To get the full explanation behind each nugget, listen to the episode! (The advice starts around the 29 minute mark.)

  1. Good writers are good readers. Read a lot, and read broadly.
  2. Be curious about the world. Expose yourself to all sorts of inspiration.
  3. Make interesting and unexpected connections.
  4. The habit of writing is essential. Find daily rhythms of writing.
  5. A good piece of writing is made in the editing process.
  6. Be unexpected in your ideas and your writing.
  7. Avoid the hot take. Take a considered approach; don’t rush to be the first to say something.

A Writer’s Honest Prayer

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Almighty God,

In light of your holiness and generosity, I’m aware of my unworthiness and sin. My pride and self-focus are bulging and monstrous; I confess these sins to you.

I confess that I long for the attention and praise of men. I want people to say that I’m important; I dream of the admiration of others.

My self-worth rises and falls too often with page views, comments, and incoming links. I check my blog stats more frequently than I should, more frequently than I would admit.

As I write, I am tempted to draw attention to myself. Instead of using humor and playful word choices to serve readers, I have chosen phrases so others will think I’m clever.

I have not always used my words to glorify you. Instead, I have written to impress other people and make a name for myself.

In these sins of self-exaltation, I have walked in the opposite direction from Jesus. Your son made himself nothing, while I have tried to make something of myself. Though your love frees me to pour out my life and energy for others, I have too often only paid attention to me.

For the sake of your son, please forgive me.

In light of my sin which only you can forgive, I need change only you can bring. Merciful God, please change me. Turn my bent-inwardness around and renovate my heart.

Use my writing for your glory. Help me write in service of your people.

Give me only the opportunities that would point others to you and bless your church. Keep me from projects and outlets that would bring me spiritual harm.

Please give me ideas. Help me think well about you and your world. Tether me to your life-giving word.

When I sit to write, give me words. I depend on you. Give me helpful, persuasive, wise, gracious, godly, timely words.

Empower my friends to speak to me honestly. Rebuke and correct me by your Spirit and your people. Strengthen my elders to shepherd me.

Help me remember the gospel. Whether my writing is well-received or ignored, remind me of your unfailing love and the bedrock work of Jesus. Thank you that no amount of writing, good or bad, can make you love me any more or less than you do right now. You are full of grace.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Photo Credit: Ursula (2015), public domain

Great Writing Leads to Worship

Notes from the Tilt-a-WhirlIf you ever read N.D. Wilson’s book, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl (and I’d encourage the endeavor), you’ll probably have trouble describing it. It’s unlike any other book I’ve read. In places, this is frustrating. I suspect this is part of Wilson’s design.

It’s not my intention to describe the content of the book now but rather the effect. You see, lots of books and authors impress me, make me think, even inspire me. But Wilson accomplished something different, something higher—he made me worship. This is certainly part of his design.

This might be due to my own circumstances and temperament, even my experiences. But this book might just have the same effect on you. Two longer quotations from the book’s final chapter appear below. These especially pointed my heart and desires toward God. I know this is part of His design.

We go into the ground, where the moss will feed on us and others will be stacked on top. We go into church floors and graveyards behind grocery stores. We go into the sea and the snow. We are devoured—by each other, by the earth, by time, by cancers and confusion, by the spinning of this sphere as it runs its balanced laps.

We are in Winter, where the light dies and blood runs cold.

But we are not forgotten. Wet, ripped from the trees and trampled, we will not be lost, for we are His words, and when His voice calls, we will come.

Offstage, there is another greater stage.

Come, let us grow old like fishermen. Let us sweeten the air with songs while we fade. Let us die. Winter cannot hold us. Let us go into the ground, and our faces will find the sun. Let us ride the eruption of Easter. — pages 196–197

And this is how the book ends. You might need to read the whole book to feel the impact of the final line, but this is too good not to share.

We will hear the angels sing. We will be the sheep. We will be made new and find ourselves standing in a garden. We will be handed bodies and shovels and joy.

No tree will be prohibited.

Blister your hands. Tend to the ants. Push the shadows back. Sing. Make a garden of the world.

We will laugh and carve FINIS on the earth. We will carve it on the moon. We will look to the Voice, to the Singer, the Painter, the Poet, the One born in a barn, the One with holes in His hands and oceans in His eyes, and on that day, we will know—

The story has begun.

And we will rake the leaves. — page 197

I loved reading this book, not just because it made me think, and not just because it lead me to worship. It reminded me that great writing (ideas and craft in one package) honors God because it imitates God. Living in His art, image-bearers glorify the Giver by creating art in His image.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.