What Kind of Writer Am I? (Advice for Writers)


No writer can write about everything, but just about any writer can write about anything. So at some point, you’ll need to have an honest conversation with yourself about what subjects you’ll tackle (and which ones you won’t).

Recently, I set aside one hour of time to reflect on this dilemma, and to write out — at a more conceptual level — what types of writing most interest me. I wanted to see if I could detect certain themes already at work in what I already publish.

This was not my first attempt at this categorization, and the theories I present here are still very much in process, but that hour of reflecting and meditating brought several key conclusions.

As a writer, I am at my best when I observe and express three things:

  1. the essence of a thing (as defined by the Creator)
  2. how beings relate to God and other beings, and
  3. what pressures change these relationships.

That was a summary of three specific conclusions:

(1) I like to write about ontological marvels. I am very interested in quiddity, in getting to the essence of a thing. I enjoy articulating its haecceity, its this-ness, what makes anything unique and describable. I love to press in past the surface appearance of things, to study the property, quality, and distinctions of all things based on God’s revealed intentions. This is true of creation, and for beings (both in union/disunion with Christ), and for the nature of God as he reveals himself.

(2) I like to write on spiritual socio-ecology. I am attracted to the study of how we understand our selves and then how we related to others in various environments. Additionally, I enjoy studying the phenomenon of longing and belonging, and describing the nature of all things and beings in their primary relationship (to God).

(3) I like to write on the essential spiritual dynamics at play in the push and pull of enticement and coercion. I am interested in understanding the forces in play in the physics of our relationships with one another, of our relationships to creation, and especially of our relationships with God. My interests focus on the compressive influence of human culture to coerce, persuade, or dissuade the soul. And of course I am most interested in the enticements of God, and in his work in Christ to allure and woo us toward himself.

Finally, after contemplating what I like to write about, I took some time to define how I like to write.

The content of my writing is driven and refined by a writing style I adopted early in my career. Known simply as the “classic style,” a conversational style with an emphasis on shrewd observation (which is overt), and builds upon strict flow of logic (which is mostly concealed). The classic style not only reads conversationally, it should read spontaneously and even passionately. Any hints that a piece of writing is premeditated is strictly removed. Given other forms of style, and given the simplicity of prose it aims to produce, the classic style is quite complex and takes some time to understand. Even more, it takes years of work to employ (I’m still in process). Classic style is also old and proven by years of successful examples written most consistently, it seems, by the French, who first embraced the genre on a massive scale, and gave it prominence in the seventeenth-century (Blaise Pascal, in our circles, being the most famous example). The style is beautiful for the way it naturally draws out the writer’s personality, but also for its clear air of simplicity, and all the while being driven by an internal engine of logic. The style is attractive and rich, but it’s not without limitations. By design, the classic style aims to help readers make their own conclusions and therefore stresses the value of observable truth over blunt attempts at persuasion.

To more fully understand how the classic style works, I commend Clear and Simple As the Truth: Writing Classic Prose by Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner.

Hopefully what I actually write, on a published level, sounds less geeky than all of these meditations. But sketching out my writing interests at a conceptual level, and putting them on paper, is illuminating to me.

But now it’s your turn. Invest a little time for this type of self-reflection to understand yourself as a writer, and you will reap the life-giving reward of focus.

The Joy Project (Free Book)

This week I launched my third solo book, titled, The Joy Project: A True Story of Inescapable Happiness.

The new book is short — 120 pages — but in those few pages I attempt to dive into the most profound story ever told in the universe, the story of God’s Sovereign Joy.

The Joy Project also fulfills of a dream of mine to write and publish a full book free of charge to the world. The dream has become a reality thanks to the financial donors behind desiringGod.org, and so it seemed appropriate to dedicate the book to these many men and women around the world who support our daily labors.

You can download the book right now, free of charge, in three digital formats, at desiringGod.org/thejoyproject.

What John Newton Taught Me


Recently a friend of mine wrote and asked: “Having spent so much time with your friend John Newton, what would say is the single most important thing — numero uno — he has pressed into your heart?”

Here’s my answer (posted with permission):

Brother, what a wonderful question!

Well, what strikes me most about Newton is his insistence that the Christian life is exodus (conversion), followed by forty years of desert wandering and trials and challenges (the Christian life), that all usher in the Promised Land of eternal life in the presence of Christ. In other words, most of us arrive at the doorstep of eternity by degrees and disclosures, not abruptly and in a flash.

And so many of the pressures and promises of life cloud our vision. There are many sinful things we think will be gainful in life, and so we are lured from one idol to another fleeting idol until we are made to realize the futility of this search, and how habitually we have been reaching for god substitutes. But something of this hold true for even the good things in life, like marriage and children and ministry — so God brings into our lives disruptions and trials to break us free from assuming these good gifts can supply the gain we need to manage this life with joy.

And so as time goes on, and as we find the sinful things to be empty, and even the good things in life wear thin in what we expect them to bring in truly satisfying our hearts, we begin to see something our hearts were longing for in all those things. And just as we begin to see the thinness of all the things we previously rooted our eternal hopes in, a new delight shines through the background.

As the Christian life develops and deepens we are ever weaned from this world, slowly, by increments, and through various trials and troubles and letdowns. And the good gifts in life do not become worthless but seem to take on a new character because Christ begins shining through them to us and we grow in gratitude and see all things as gifts that come to us directly from the Savior’s hand.

And as the Christian ages and spouses are taken away and even children are taken early and as ministry responsibilities pass on to others, there is a growing sense of inadequacy and a growing sense of incapability with this world that grows stronger and in a sense more bitter — a sorrow in the rejoicing.

Then finally comes a day when our time on earth draws to a close, and the beauty of Christ shines more precious to us than ever before in life. Not all of the sudden, but as though it were the culmination of forty years of wilderness preparedness, all of life leading us to a point when finally everything on earth seems to be loss compared to the greatest gain, the greatest treasure, which is to enter the unspeakable delight of the presence of our Savior. And in that moment, suddenly, through death, we find the truest gain we were seeking for all along as the doorway into the beatific presence of Christ opens to us.

I have never seen a man live with resolve in a vision of the Christian life like the one I see in the life and letters of John Newton. That’s what I take from him. He pulls away the clouds and the shrouds of what makes this life feel so enclosed by the momentary, to show that we are all being led, day-by-day, step-by-step, into the presence of our greatest gain in the universe.