Opening Remarks at Wordsmithy 2012

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As wordsmiths, as writers, one of the first things we should do is recognize that the Christian faith is necessarily logocentric. Jesus is the Word, and the Word is with God and the Word is God. Just as the Pythagoreans were religious about their math, so also we worship the Word. We think math is cool as well, but only because it is actually a language.

We worship God the Father through the Word, we listen to what the Word tells us (in Scripture), we meditate on the fact that we have a sacred Book, full of words, and then we pay attention to what this Book tells us about words.

These comments are to be taken as a teaser only. There is obviously a lot more to be said. In fact, apart from that one half hour of silence in heaven (Rev. 8:1), the reality is that the eternal Word and our everlasting words are going to be world without end . . . word without end, amen. We should give ourselves to this.

So then, how do we write? For whom do we write? What is the point of writing?

Writing is a vocation, and it involves work.

“To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: But fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:6-7).

Interpretation and understanding are not necessarily immediately accessible — some of the sayings are dark sayings — but it begins with a simple fear of the Lord, and a simple rejection of the fool’s despising of wisdom and instruction.

This is why we must give ourselves to the work. “Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge” (Prov. 23:12). So apply yourself. The writing world is filled with wannabees, lazier than Ludlum’s dog, who leaned his head against the wall to bark. This applies double to aspiring screenwriters. It could be raining porridge and some folks would have forgot their bowl.

But beware of the illusory form “applying yourself,” which is to let loose with a torrent of words. You are not a writer, but rather a fire hydrant with the caps removed. First, get the shape because you need something to edit. But So the work of writing includes the laborious work of editing. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: But he that refraineth his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19). Or, put another way, “He that hath knowledge spareth his words: And a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit” (Prov. 17:27).

This is not limited to the editing of excising, but also to the editing of placement, of blocking and copying. “A word fitly spoken Is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” Prov. 25:11).

Who are you writing for? Who is the intended audience? It ought not to be the fool. “Speak not in the ears of a fool: For he will despise the wisdom of thy words” (Prov. 23:9). You don’t want to write words he will receive, because that would mean you must write like a fool. And you don’t want to waste your time by writing what will not be received.

What effect are you trying to achieve? What’s the point?

“Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: But a good word maketh it glad” (Prov. 12:25). Note there is a difference between making it glad, and a ham-fisted purveyor of Uplift trying to make it all good by filling up his super-soaker and squirting rainbows at everybody.

The point of writing should be the same as the point of the universe — to bring joy. “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: And a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (Prov. 15:23).

Loathsome words and pleasant words are always to be distinguished. “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord: But the words of the pure are pleasant words” (Prov. 15:26). There are times when a writer must write hard words — but only because that is the necessary route to the pleasant words. Ride through the Paths of the Dead if necessary, but not as a destination point.

There is no better way to conclude these remarks than by citing a master of everything that has been said here. C.S. Lewis says — somewhere — that “literature exists to teach what is useful, to honor what deserves honor, to appreciate the delightful. The useful, the honorable, and delightful are superior to it [literature]. It exists for their sake. Its own use, honor, or delightfulness is derivative from theirs.'”



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