I teach and discuss the Christian worldview through articles and posts, and I remain in awe of the power of the written word. Therefore, many within the Christian world, both in the past and today, have worked to communicate truth in words via the printed page or on the screen.
As I help writers in sharing ideas or inspiring others, there are some pitfalls I observe. Below are some common ones which both current and aspiring writers should note.
Verbosity – using too many words to express a point
Conciseness is a mark of good writing, even if the content is religious. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must use so many words to express the gravity of your message. Excess words hinder your message; it doesn’t help it. Effectiveness as a writer is in choosing the words which best connect with your audience.
Lack of originality
When you discuss redemption or grace in exactly the same way as the classic writers, you are not helping your development as a writer. Find your own voice.
Of course, learn from the wisdom of other writers, both past and modern. In fact, the Christian writer who seeks to be entirely original is dangerous. He is more likely to spread heresies and unbiblical ideas.
Nevertheless, there can (and should be) fresh expressions of Biblical truths. You can bring a new angle to a centuries-old discussion. You can create a new artistic form in proclaiming the one gospel of redemption. Your exposition of a topic can penetrate depths not before reached. And that makes you unique.
I’ll be blunt on this. Please ditch the KJV for a modern translation. It was made in 1611—that was five centuries ago! Unless you believe the false notion that this is the only inspired version (which I cannot address here), you would stress your audience. Because of their reliance on this translation, I see many writers sounding like Tyndale or Shakespeare. The idioms and expressions which were fine then may no longer be clear to your readers.
Get a modern and accurate translation. The NKJV is at least an improvement, but there are still others. The NIV, ESV, NLT, NASB, etc. are a few. Some are more literal than others, and there are issues about the respective translation method adopted by some versions. But my point is to use a contemporary version which will not disconnect you from those you are trying to reach.
Excessive quotation of scripture
Unless you are composing your own version of the Bible or one of its books, you don’t need to have lengthy portions quoted all over your book or article. Too many fall into this category. I suspect it’s sometimes done to beef up the length of the book. At times, it’s an attempt to help the reader understand the point being made without having to go to the Bible and read the entire passage.
Aside from the copyright issue involved (which is why many writers prefer using the KJV or a ‘free’ translation), it is not a good publishing standard. Unless you are reviewing a book, you should not have to quote so much of a text in your own material. Refer to the relevant passage and quote only brief excerpts which are crucial in conveying your point.
Believe me, if your writing is interesting enough, the reader won’t mind looking up the longer passages in the Bible.
Poor sentence variation
This often stems from poor writing skill. But there is also an assumption that complex sentence structures have a holy aura about them. Once again, you are putting off your audience.
Your writing should flow like music. And you achieve this by carefully balancing long and short sentences.
Look at the below paragraph as an example:
Grace is not cheap. Grace cost so much. It cost God the very act of being nailed to a tree, in shame and in misery. Yet he did it. He did it for a world he loved too much to abandon.
With a good variation of your sentences, you convey your audience along without losing them along the way.
Writing is an art. In the hands of masters, it has swayed individuals and built civilizations. And when used well, it can still transform ours. It is no surprise that God himself saw fit to preserve his revelation in a book.
We have a message to proclaim. No, we have truth and life to give to a world that is gasping for it. Yet, we can keep that world from receiving it through poor writing.
Study prominent writers. Learn the craft. Then go extend his kingdom as wide as the wind and the internet will take your words.