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.

We Are All Apologists Now

fools-talkOs Guinness, in his new book Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (IVP), pages 15–16:

We are all apologists now, and we stand at the dawn of the grand age of human apologetics, or so some are saying because our wired world and our global era are a time when expressing, presenting, sharing, defending and selling ourselves have become a staple of everyday life for countless millions of people around the world, both Christians and others. The age of the Internet, it is said, is the age of the self and the selfie. The world is full of people full of themselves. In such an age, “I post, therefore I am.”

To put the point more plainly, human interconnectedness in the global era has been raised to a truly global level, with unprecedented speed and on an unprecedented scale. Everyone is now everywhere, and everyone can communicate with everyone else from anywhere and at any time, instantly and cheaply. Communication through the social media in the age of email, text messages, cell phones, tweets and Skype is no longer from “the few to the many,” as in the age of the book, the newspaper and television, but from “the many to the many,” and all the time. . . .

That is why it can be said that we are in the grand secular age of apologetics. The whole world has taken up apologetics without ever using or knowing the idea as Christians understand it. We are all apologists now, if only on behalf of “the Daily Me” or “the Tweeted Update” that we post for our virtual friends and our cyber community. The great goals of life, we are told, are to gain the widest possible public attention and to reach as many people in the world with our products — and always, our leading product is Us.

Are Christians ready for this new age? We who are followers of Jesus stand as witnesses to the truth and meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as a central matter of our calling. We are spokespersons for our Lord, and advocacy is in our genes. Ours is the apologetic faith par excellence. But regardless of the new media, many of us have yet to rise to the challenge of a way of apologetics that is as profound as the good news we announce, as deep as the human heart, as subtle as the human mind, as powerful and flexible as the range of people and issues that we meet every day in our extraordinary world in which “everyone is now everywhere.”

Later Guinness writes (pages 166–167):

On the one hand, modern words suffer from inattention. Everyone is speaking and no one is listening. On the other hand, modern words suffer from inflation. Under the impact of the omnipresence of advertising and “adspeak,”words are nothing more than tools to sell products and agendas, and the highest and most sacred words can be used to give a leg up to the most trivial of goods and the worst of causes. Words today are all so much “verbiage,” “propaganda” and a matter of “words, words, words.”

In direct and forceful contrast, we Christians must show again that we are both people of the Word and people who believe in words. Words are never mere words for us, for they are linked indissolubly to truth, freedom, worship and human dignity. Words matter because we worship the Word himself, and our words used on his behalf should be spring-loaded with the truth and power of his Word — especially to those who are closed.

The problems of inattention and inflation are only two of the oddities of communication in the great age of communication. But they show how great communicators as Christians are called to be and have often been, communication today is often harder and not easier. More importantly, they show that the best answer to the challenge is not through improved technology but through deeper theology.

Book(s) Updates


Here’s a real quick update on my book projects (past, present, and future).

First, a special thank you to everyone who lent a hand to launch my new book, Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (Crossway). Apart from a glitch in Amazon’s automation process that prevented the book from being restocked in a timely manner (and which dragged the launch out longer than expected), everything went very well. I’m grateful to God for many friends who wrote encouraging endorsements and who helped spread the word online. A special thanks to Westminster Books who ran a special offer on the book for a couple of weeks and brought some level of consistency to the launch (and sanity to me).

Newton is book #2 for me. Book #3 is nearly complete. Last week I was graciously given some time to finish up the book in a remote cabin in the woods of Minnesota. The time was focused and productive and I’m now done with it. From here it will go through two final rounds of edits in the coming weeks. The endorsements are in and the cover is finished (and it’s beautiful!). I speak in veiled terms because it is a secret. All I can say it will be 130 pages long, it will launch in October, and it will be given away free of charge to the world (which is the fulfillment of a dream for me).

Today I signed a contract for book #4, and I launch into the big ocean of writing and research in early July. The book will be my third with Crossway (book #1, you may remember, is titled Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books, and was published back in 2011). Book #4 will also be my third book in which I will be working closely with Justin Taylor, which is a privilege only an author in such a position can fully appreciate. I’ll share more about book #4 later this fall (after #3 launches).

Over the last several months the Lord has been kind to me, sparking many potential book ideas and delivering a lot of creative energy. My new urgency in writing books is the culmination of a two-year process of evaluating two questions: (1) Has God called me to write or edit? And, (2) If I’m called to write, what should I be writing (both in format and theme)? Authoring books is a calling others have affirmed, and there are few things I love more than writing thickly researched, highly edited, and refined projects on targeted subjects, all to serve the local church. I do not write to write; I write to serve. And I firmly believe writing books is a primary calling on my life, at least for the near future.

Speaking of writing, a number of friends online have asked if I would share my writing process for the Newton book — the ins and outs of what a typical week looked like for me (as a weekend writer with a family). I have also been asked to explain my formal process for how I envisioned writing what I have called “pastoral synthesis,” the art of taking Newton’s 1,000 letters and drawing them together under an umbrella of selected universals of the Christian life. I’m under deadline to finish three article projects in the next week, but when I get those done I hope to return to those journal pages, transcribe my notes, and share my process here at tonyreinke.com.

So those are my book updates.

What a joy to serve you as a writer. As I have come to appreciate, authors labor for long hours in isolation, for an audience they cannot see, to address a future they cannot predict. So to now have the Newton book out and to see it bless particular readers is a thrill for me (and especially to hear from a number of pastors and from Christians who are struggling with depression). I thank you for your online encouragements and for the incredibly kind reviews that have begun appearing on the Newton page in Amazon.

Of course you can always find an updated list of books I have written or edited at the bottom of the About page, here.

As old Bunyan once said, I am honored to serve you with what little I have to offer.

Blessings in Christ!

Tony Reinke