The 7 W’s of Writing
I just finished teaching a seminar, Introduction to Research, to first-year doctoral students in my role as Ph.D. Director at Southeastern Seminary. You may enjoy a brief snippet from this two-day seminar in which I shared some random reflections on the seven W’s of writing.
Who are you? Are you writing self-consciously and professedly as a believer? Or are you writing covertly, in a chameleon-like fashion taking on the color of your environment? To other believers, you use fervent Christian language; to critical scholars, you hide behind scholarly jargon?
Who you are is a function of your calling from God, your unique background, your formative experiences, skills and education, expertise, and so on. Ask yourself: What is the contribution God wants you to make that no one else can make? Don’t compare yourself with others. Don’t be competitive. Make the most of the potential God has given you.
On what subject do you want to write? What is your passion? What is the message burning in your heart? Is it heresy you want to combat? Is it a doctrine you want to expound? Do you want to educate God’s people? Set some error straight? Alert your readers to some overlooked truth? Unearth some little-known fact or figure?
Where should you do your research and writing? In your home office? At work? Should you go away somewhere? I know people who swap offices with a colleague or use a friend’s apartment while he is at work to get away from the office. How do you avoid distractions and interruptions? How do you make room for larger blocks of time?
4. In what way?
How should you do your research? How should you write? This is what the entire seminar was about. I led the class in a devotional from Luke 1:1–4; we went on a tour of the library; and every student was assigned to read The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams and Style by Joseph Williams.
Why do you want to research and write? To get rich and famous (very unlikely for a theologian or biblical scholar)? To get promoted? Because you’re supposed to? To get recognition for yourself? Or do you want to minister to people and to serve and glorify God? What is it that motivates you and fuels your desire to research and write?
When should you write? Should you wait for a sabbatical or for a sudden influx of inspiration? After my return from my first sabbatical, I decided to operate in continual sabbatical mode; I can’t afford to wait for my next sabbatical. If writing is a calling, we will want to pursue that calling. Like Paul, we will say, “Woe to me if I don’t write!”
So, when should you write? To paraphrase Paul once more, “In season and out of season.” This will mean that you will make research and writing a priority. Research and writing take time, effort, and commitment. Determine the amount, and level, of writing God has called you to do, and then commit yourself to follow through and be disciplined.
7. For whom?
Who is your primary audience? Is it your scholarly peers? Your students? You, yourself? Ultimately, your primary audience should be God. You should be writing for him, it is him you should want to please. If you’re writing for your academic peers, you will easily get caught in intramural disputes. But if you write to please God, you will keep your eyes on him.