One way to add creativity to your writing (or preaching) is by writing backwards. Not like I have done in the title of this post, but by writing backwards in the linear development of your thoughts.
We naturally develop thoughts from left to right and from top to bottom so it requires a little practice to train you brain to write from the bottom up, from the close to the start, from the main point to the supporting arguments, from the punch-line to the background. But it’s worth a try.
I sort of taught myself to do this after I discovered that my penchant for premature punch-lines was a problem in my prose. I am one for getting straight to the point in conversations, in emails, and if you’ve read this blog for more than a month you know this is true in my blog posts. I get to the point quickly (normally in the first sentence) and while this makes my point clear and obvious it can also limit my logic and suffocate creativity. I’ve learned that I need to slow the progress down, build a little more, anticipate questions, prepare the reader, and provide more background. So sometimes I write backwards.
Let’s say I set out to write a short blog post with one point: only in Christ will sinners find their hope. But I don’t want to get to the point too abruptly, I want to follow a creative path.
Writing backwards asks a simple backwards-looking question: What point leads to this point?
So what point leads to a reader to appreciate the hope we have in Christ? In this case, the objective truth of the gospel will need to be explained first before the hope will be concrete hope. What point leads to this point? The hopelessness of a lost world will need to be explained from Scripture. What point leads to this point? Perhaps the idea of man’s hopelessness from the writings of a non-believer would work. Perhaps I would pull a quote from Joseph Conrad’s writings. What point leads to this point? I should introduce Conrad’s realism that he brought to literature and his role in shaping modern English literature. I’ll stop here although I could continue working backwards.
Now turn it around. When I actually write I then say something like this: Joseph Conrad is a key figure in the development of 19th century English literature. He is known for his honesty about the deep hopelessness in the human heart. [Choose one example and insert here.] Then something about the fact that even realistic non-Christians can see the hopelessness of the human condition. Joseph Conrad could see the darkness. So what’s the cause of Conrad’s hopelessness? Sin. Here I would add a biblical explanation for sin, the death and resurrection of Christ, and then arrive at the punch-line: our only hope is found in Him. I’d title the post: Conrad’s Hopelessness (or some theme pulled from the intro).
This practice of writing backwards benefits my writing in four ways:
- Creativity. By writing backwards I tap into the creative side of my brain. It allows me to chase an endless trail of connected ideas. You could have arrived at the same point through a million different paths.
- Logical development. By writing backwards writers can often more carefully think about how supporting material contributes to the linear progress up to the main point. Sometimes it’s easy to understand the point but difficult to see the path to that point. Writing backwards exposes gaps in my logic.
- Introductory options. This style often helps the writer understand where to begin. Because the intro is the last thing that is written and you can continue working backwards until you can go no further. In my post I could have gone even earlier than the perceptions of a non-Christian fiction writers. I could have talked about my early disdain for fiction. I could have lamented by education. You can run out a long tail of connected ideas and then choose where to cut the tail (ie where to begin your intro).
- Conclusion focus. This writing style helps me build everything else around the main point. The main point is always at the center of my thinking. It keeps my post focused but prevents me from stating it too quickly.
Preachers can use this, too. Sermon points can often develop backwards off one another. And each sermon point can be developed backwards for improved logical flow and enhanced creative elements (like illustrations).
There are a number of other uses for writing backwards. I think it’s a nice little trick every writer should consider using at least once and especially if you, like me, are too quick to the punch-line.