My Writing Flow
In a recent post, I encouraged those with the ability to both exposit and write to consider writing regularly about the Bible, the word of God. My premise there was simple: the world needs God’s word, so if you can teach it and also write, combine the gifts and get after it. I am trying to grow in this gifting and calling, praying for God to enable me to write more clearly and effectively. Just as each year in the pulpit becomes clearer and stronger, I feel I will forever be finding my writing voice. I haven't arrived at anything, for this is a race we are all running, and I have not yet broken the tape. But, for those who are considering an entrance into writing regularly, especially about Scripture, I thought I would write a post about my regular writing flow to serve as a prompt to help you strategize.
The First Hour
If you’ve read here at all, you might know I like to begin my day with personal Bible reading and prayer. But, immediately after that, since I have a home office, I begin writing. At 7:00 a.m. I begin writing, giving it one full hour. I find that by devoting an hour each morning to writing, I can build a library of content. Writing begets more writing (the more I write, the more it flows out of me) so this hour is a crucial one.
Let me pause here to say that if you do not have a regular commitment to writing, I don’t think it’s going to happen for you. Writing, at least for me, is not magical. I don’t have big moments of inspiration where I get up from whatever I’m doing, walk over to my keyboard, and begin banging away in a trance-like state. My personal experience is one of planning what to write, carving out the time for it, and sticking to it.
But that first hour doesn't just happen. In fact, it takes a little planning for it to be a productive time. Again, I am a pastor-teacher, so I have plenty of scriptures I’d like to communicate. With some planning, I can think of hundreds of potential articles to write. My flow for the last year has been to write a book based on the Sunday series we are in during the first two writing hour-long blocks of my week. I then devote the next two hour-long writing blocks to writing other articles (like this one).
It is a work in progress, but my current system for planning out my writing is happening in Evernote and iAWriter (which is my chosen word processor). In Evernote, I keep a running list of article ideas. I populate this with anything and everything. After each teaching I give for our online through-the-Bible teaching series, I comb through the notes to see which verses or passages deserve a fuller or standalone treatment in written article form. After a stimulating conversation, I will jot down a little outline, so I can write about it later on. After my devotional time, I will make notations next to journal entries that could be turned into a blog post. After my staff chapel teachings (weekly at Calvary), I will take note of any part of it that should become an article. And, perhaps the most significant, I think through future Sunday teaching series’ and ask if they should/could become books. In 2017, three of the four studies I took the church through became book manuscripts (Ephesians, The Songs Of Ascent of Psalm 120-134, and Revelation 2-3 on the seven letters of Christ to the church in Asia Minor). So, my goal is to always hunt for topics and scriptures that would fit a devotional post, article, or book, capturing those ideas in a single Evernote list.
My next step is to open a single document in iA Writer (or Word, Pages, Google Docs, etc.). I label that document with the date for the following week (example: 3/19/18). Then, inside that document, I list out the content I want to write about during the following week. Under each heading, I will include (through copy and paste) any notes or outlines I would like to reference as I write.
Here is my writing document from this week, with parenthetical clarifications so you can see how each article was conceived:
- God-Hearted, chapter 2 (a book on the life of David)
- Why Write? (an article which flowed from a conversation I had with a pastor I know who called to talk about writing).
- My Writing Flow (The article you are reading now, a piece stimulated from that same phone conversation).
- Three Questions Every Human Asks (a longer article based on a teaching I gave at a recent high school camp, launched from Matthew 6).
- Manhood Redeemed (an article stemming from teachings I gave a few months ago on Ephesians 5-6, where husbands, fathers, and leaders are redeemed by the gospel).
- How The Book Of Acts Can Help The Modern Church (an article based on a teaching I gave introducing Acts to our Calvary Monterey staff for a yearlong teaching I am giving them on the book of Acts for ministry people).
The odds of me getting through all of these assignments in one week are slim. I only write four hours each week (four writing blocks), so there is no way I’ll be able to write each piece, as they will likely amount to around 8,000 words total, and I am not that fast. But, at least I have a plan each morning which will help me get going.
Every blogger and author has to decide how much content their life rhythm will allow them to produce. It is important, when planning this, to allow more time than you think. Don’t be too ambitious, especially at first.
But once you decide — for instance, I decided to produce 2-3 articles per week, plus a weekly sermon notes post, for my website — you need to create an editorial calendar. Mine is a Google Sheets spreadsheet with the dates posts will go out, the title of the post for that day and a box to check once the article has been edited and queued up online. For reference, here is a screen shot of my 2017 January-February editorial calendar:
This calendar will help you stay ahead of the curve, thinking through pieces that you need to write.
Now, a word of warning, your editorial calendar will depend on the style of writing you do. I am trying to persuade expositor-writers with these posts, so I assume that you won’t be writing hot-takes on current events all the time, but you might be gifted to find scriptures from which you can address the current events of the day. I try to write evergreen articles (pieces with no expiration date once the current event is old news), but, obviously, there is a place for a biblical world-view being applied to the events of the day. If that is your style, your editorial calendar won’t be as planned out, because you won’t know what your assignments are until news headlines are released.
Editing & Posting
Each piece I write is a rough draft. Ugly and undone, I throw each rough draft into a folder labeled “To Edit,” where it waits for me to put my eyes on it, sometimes weeks or months later. I try to devote fifteen to thirty minutes a day to editing, but later in the day after I’ve written and studied.
My process for editing begins with an online grammar editor called Grammarly. Dumping my rough draft into Grammarly reveals tons of grammatical and spelling errors. Slowly, I move through the document, cutting, reshaping, and editing until the piece is done. How long I spend editing usually depends on the final destination of the piece. I will take longer on a book chapter — it is a book, after all — and less time for a blog post (and maybe you've even found some of my typos as a result!).
Finally, I take my finished draft and queue it up on my blog or save it with the book it belongs to. I won’t spend much time talking about the actual posting, because each website has its own technical specifications, but I use Squarespace to host and manage my website, and their tools for scheduling posts are straightforward and helpful. I’ve heard Wordpress offers more flexibility and creativity for tweaking a site or blog, but I have been happy with Squarespace.
I try to write articles and books which are evergreen, meaning they are always applicable, so I don’t write articles about Thanksgiving in November, Christmas in December, or romance in February. I want the stuff I write to be applicable year round, or in years to come. With that in mind, I can schedule posts out into the future. My personal goal has been to have posts scheduled and posted two months in advance. I find this gives me the peace of mind I need in case an intense season of ministry comes up and I cannot keep up with the pace of the blog.
I am still learning how to do this well, and there are a million other elements to think about if one commits to writing about the Bible, things like social media, distribution, and community building. I am a local church pastor, so my goal isn’t to create a massive online community because I already have a community to care for. My main hope is for my writing to impact the church community I’m called to lead, but do have a desire to see it go beyond them and into the hearts of believers throughout the world.
I do hope to write more on this subject, but I hope this post helps someone out there who is thinking about communicating scripture via the medium of the written word. Pray about it! When I started, I sensed the Lord leading me to try it for two full years. This length of time seemed long enough to push through the initial fits of discouragement that would inevitably come, but short enough to know it would end if it just weren’t working. But, at this point, I must say I have felt very attached to it. There has only been one element to pastoral work I have felt an unwavering attachment to: the ministry of the word in the pulpit. For all the other hats a pastor might wear — and I've worn many of them — teaching the Bible has been a constant for me. But this writing thing has come as close to that level as any other work I’ve done as a pastor. Counseling, small groups, and visioneering are all beautiful and help make me into a well-rounded man and pastor, but I have a real affinity for writing about God’s word. It feels right and natural to me. I hope and pray more will feel the same.
If you have questions about my writing flow, leave one in the comment section and I will try to answer.