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. What does God declare to be true? What he says is true, is true, about creation, about beings (both in union/disunion with Christ), and about the nature of God as he reveals himself. Helping convince souls of what is true, certainly does not ignore the affections. “There is a dignity and poignancy in the bare fact that a thing exists” (C.S. Lewis). Or, “Christians enjoy their worldview, aesthetically, once they have accepted it as true” (C.S. Lewis). In fact conviction of what is true, in the details, is necessary for stirring all of the religious affections. And it is often where Christians stumble today.

(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 phenomenons of identity and 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. More on that book (and others) here.

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.

7 thoughts on “What Kind of Writer Am I? (Advice for Writers)

  1. This is pretty awesome. I just put my first book on Kindle, and I think it is “classic” style. If I had read this first, I would have been more intentional. Next time, I will use it! Good stuff here. Thanks.

  2. Greatly appreciated. This reminded me of Chapter 7 in Lit! about prioritizing one’s reading, only now directed towards writers.

    Having just taken an hour for the same exercise as you describe in this post, I’ve finally admitted some things to myself as a writer that I’ve been ignoring for too long. Thanks for the instigation!

  3. I’ve not read Clear and Simple As the Truth but added it to a wish list. I did, however, just finish The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. I found it very enjoyable and helpful for thinking about classic style.

  4. Interesting. I read Pinker a long time back. I would put him in more of the English/Literature category myself rather than the French/Classical, though there are clear overlaps. Does he call his style classic?

  5. When you say French/Classical, I’m not sure I grasp all of the nuance—lot’s I don’t know. And the Sense of Style is the only Pinker book I’ve read by him. But I would consider it an apologetic for the superiority of classic style (and a bunch of advice at how to achieve it). He uses the term over and over.

    In fact, the title of chapter 2 is “a window to the world,” which (in the book) is his overarching metaphor for classic style. The subtitle for the chapter is “classic style as an antidote for academese, bureaucratese, corporatese, legalese, officalese, and other kinds of stuff prose.” (Kinda Puritan-ese of a title, though.)

  6. Actually, you’re exactly right! Pinker’s entire chapter is a synopsis of the French/Classic style, but without a lot of the philosophical underpinnings of the other book, and far far more practical help. Bam! Thank you, brother.

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