Writing well for God’s glory is hard work. We writers often find ourselves searching for the special key that unlocks the mystery of excellent writing, the surefire cure for writer’s block, or any handy tip or trick to make writing easier.
We’re drawn to checklists that promise our final drafts will be perfect if we just check all the boxes. It’s attractive because it simplifies the excruciating process of sorting jumbled up ideas and messy thoughts into a cohesive and engaging series of words worthy of our readers’ attention.
As a writing mentor, I’m regularly asked, “What’s your best piece of writing advice?” Oh, how I wish I could confidently answer that question the same way every time! It would be so convenient and neat and tidy to have the “silver bullet” of writing for God’s glory.
Recently, though, I’ve noticed I tend to give all writers the same few tips at the beginning of their writing journey. These handy tools work for every writer—including myself—every time.
5 Quick Questions to Answer to Improve Anything You Write
I strive to keep all my writing advice super simple, easy to follow, and easy to implement immediately. If it’s too in-depth or overwhelming, it’ll just discourage you. And writers suffer from enough self-inflicted discouragement without my help.
So, here’s my attempt at a quick, simple, and practical framework to help you write better. No matter what you’re going to write—whether it’s a text message, a blog post, or a book—these 5 little words will improve your writing every single time.
What are you going to write? The format of your writing will depend on the type of piece you’re writing. You’ll write differently for a personal letter than you will a business email or a short story.
We see this in the Bible. It’s actually a compilation of 66 books, but not all of them are the same genre. There are historical narratives, poetry, prophecy, and personal letters, to name a few. The structure of each book is different, and they’re different on purpose.
What is your topic? Naturally, it helps to know what you’re going to write about. At the very least, you should have a topic or theme in mind. But the more specific you can be about your subject matter, the easier it will be to write about it. If your topic is too broad, it’s easy to become paralyzed by the weight of it.
Who is your reader? It’s important to know who you’re writing to because our job as God-glorifying writers is to serve our audience. The more we know about them, the more effectively we can serve them with our words. Our words must connect with our readers.
Again, the Bible is filled with writers who knew their readers well and wrote specifically with those readers in mind. For example, the four Gospels were written by four different authors. Much of their contents overlap, yet they’re written very differently. This is partly because each Gospel had a different audience.
- The Gospel of Matthew was most likely written for an audience of Jewish Christians because it was written in Aramaic and uses language that implies the readers were familiar with the Old Testament and prophecies about the Messiah and the kingdom of Heaven.
- The Gospel of Mark was written to Roman Christians. The language of this Gospel includes word choices the Romans were familiar with, and references to the Roman culture, including servanthood. Mark explains Jewish customs because his audience isn’t Jewish, and for the same reason, he doesn’t use many Old Testament references.
- The Gospel of Luke was written specifically to a cultured Greek convert named Theophilus.
- The Gospel of John was written to Christians of Asia Minor, possibly around Ephesus.
Think about your own personal testimony of coming to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. Would you tell that story exactly the same way to your 6-year-old niece as you would to your boss at work? Of course not. You’d choose different words, emphasize different parts of the story, and probably leave out some details depending on who you were speaking to.
Who you’re writing to will affect how you write.
Where will your words be read? Will it be published online? Is it going to be a paper letter you’ll send via snail mail? The “where” of your writing will impact formatting, too.
Here’s just one example of many. Writing for online reading is quite different from writing for traditional publication. Online readers skim and have short attention spans, so we use shorter paragraphs and lots of subheadings. For traditional book publishing, paragraphs can be much longer.
If you’re writing for a client or an organization or your church or another ministry or website, you need to know what their guidelines and expectations are, including their rules and expectations POST-publication.
When is the deadline? If there isn’t one, by when do you want to have it completed? When are you going to make the time to write it? Do you need to schedule writing time blocks into your calendar so you can meet your deadline?
Writing for God’s glory involves diligence. If you’re writing for others, meeting your deadline shows that you respect and care about their needs.
If you’re writing about a topic that’s time sensitive or seasonal, you want to be sure you complete it in time to meet the needs of your readers.
Why are you writing what you’re writing? This may be the last question, but it is far from the least important. It may even be the most crucial.
This question actually has two parts:
- What is the main message?
- What is the intended outcome?
Before you start to write, summarize the main message of your piece into a single sentence. If your reader remembers nothing else of what you’ve written, what do you hope they remember from this piece? Actually write down your answer so you can refer to it throughout the process.
It’s easy for us writers to get caught up in rabbit holes. We have so many thoughts going on, and we want our readers to know them all! But we serve them best when our writing is focused, the message is clear, and we’re not distracting them with words that don’t lead to our key point.
The question of purpose can be extremely challenging to answer sometimes. And it takes practice to do this well. But I promise it’s a skill worth developing. This was the single piece of advice I gave to one aspiring writer, and after only a few weeks of practice, his writing had transformed dramatically from almost undiscernable to truly profound.
In addition to the message you hope to convey, what is the intended outcome of what you’re writing? What is the response you hope to prompt in your reader? A practical application or takeaway? Do you need an actual response from your reader? Is your goal simply to entertain your reader? Should you include a “call to action” at the end of the piece?
Again, the Bible has examples of writers who had a specific purpose for writing.
- Paul wrote Philemon to entreat and persuade Philemon to reinstate Onesimus (v. 10-14).
- Peter wrote his first letter to encourage believers in their suffering and to teach them how to live out their salvation (1 Peter 5:10-12; 1:6, 2:2).
- One reasons John gave for writing the letter we call 1 John is to exhort his readers not to sin and to remind them of the provision for sin made by Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1; 5:21).
All of the 66 books of the Bible have an intended purpose. I encourage you to keep your eyes open for Bible verses that indicate the writer’s purpose for writing the book.
A Super Simple Checklist to Improve Your Writing & Make it Easier
So, there you have it. It’s not the “be all end all” of writing advice. But it’s the stuff I use on a daily basis because it works. Five little words, five quick questions, five super simple tips to improve your writing and make it easier:
- What—What are you writing?
- Who—Who are you writing to?
- Where—Where will your writing be read?
- When—When is the deadline?
- Why—Why are you writing this? What’s the message and intended outcome?
Did you find this post helpful? Are you interested in learning more super practical tips to help you write for God’s glory? Want to learn more about what the Bible has to say about writing?
Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom. I will use them when writing my short messages for a group of residents at an assisted living facility. There is a large range of abilities in comprehension. Length and depth are two factors considered while selecting topics and vocabulary. Your five points will help with clarity.
I’m glad you found these helpful, Lucille. You’re absolutely right to recognize length as depth as factors dependent on who you’re writing for. May your future messages be a blessing for the residents! And may God bless you as you serve them!
Great reminders of focussing! Thank you for the reminders of audience and depth … something that will help my next level of editing!
Thanks for your encouragement, MC, as always! There really are a lot of layers to think about when writing and editing fiction (as I know you are). I pray these tips help to simplify the editing process for you.