By Elizabeth Prata
This past June, Blogger/Reviewer Tim Challies reviewed Andrew T. Le Peau’s new book “Write Better.” I’m a writer always looking for ways to hone my craft, and since Challies’ review was glowing, I bought the book. Here is my review.
Author Le Peau has buckets of experience over many decades as an associate publisher for editorial at InterVarsity Press. I could learn from him, I thought. And I did. The first part of the book was nothing I hadn’t heard already in my years of writing and learning about writing, but the author said it well, so it was a great reminder for me. Chapters such as “Knowing Your Audience”, “Good Rewriting”, and “Cracking Writer’s Block” are all must-have chapters in a book about writing better. Le Peau is a good at his craft so even though the territory was familiar, I still learned from his insights.
The part I enjoyed learning additional insights from was the section on The Art of Writing. This part had good lessons on Tone, Metaphor, Less is More (I need this lesson!), and Creativity were well worth the price of the book.
Another section I enjoyed was the specific emphasis on The Spirituality of Writing. As Christians we should take special care in order to shepherd our talents for the glory of God. I enjoyed these chapters of the book. Stewards with a Message and Spiritual Authority and Writing were helpful chapters, among the others in this third section of the book.
Challies said “there is little to critique” in Le Peau’s book, but I did find three small things I’d like to warn the ladies about. By small I don’t mean that the concepts themselves are small, but his mentions of them were brief or passing.
1. In the chapter about The Spirituality of Writing About Yourself, the author mentions self-examination, which is all well and good. But he mentions examen or examination of conscience in the Catholic Ignatius tradition. According to the website Ignatian Spirituality, the examen is part of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, and is defined thus, “The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.” While the five steps of the examen are OK in and of themselves, there is no reason to include a Catholic mystical practice in a book aimed at evangelicals. Examining one’s conscience can be described without the baggage of using a method in a false religion and minus any potential harm to a naive sister who might go off and pursue these practices, seemingly legitimized in a glowingly reviewed book.
2. Le Peau mentions that in some organizations leadership has been restricted against people of color and for women. He offers no facts of basis for his assertion that people of color in some organizations or Christian community are denied opportunity to lead. As for women, he writes, “Many institutions, including some in conservative Christian traditions, are largely led by while males. As a result, the ability of marginal people to lead and be heard has been limited.” (p. 205). He wrongly conflates ‘lead’ with ‘be heard’. People who aren’t leading can and are heard every day. Ability of women to lead is restricted to certain spheres via God’s command. There’s nothing we can do about that except accept it or rebel against it.
I wish he had not bent to this cultural moment and stayed within the confines of writing about writing better. He applauds that the digital revolution has given many people a voice for their writing, but then complains that “putting ourselves under authority potentially means returning to obscurity.” Yes, and that’s fine, because submitting to authority is what we are biblically called to do, and if it means some of the redeemed ‘labor in obscurity’, then so be it. Which is more important, following God’s commands, or getting famous?
3. He advises that dreams and visions are legitimate ways that God affirms our calling to write and how He guides us at times. He normalizes the dream reception method by mentioning the “key people” who are called to certain tasks in the Bible, such as Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, Pharaoh, Gideon, Pilate’s wife, etc. and that these “key figures” received guidance from dreams. (p. 175). He then goes on to relate a dream he had to write a song. He reminds us that dreams can come from an evil source, so be wary and “don’t rely on dreams apart from other forms of guidance, such as Scripture…” (p. 175). I dislike when people advise us to go outside of scripture for guidance and then try to cement that method as legitimate by relating their own experience. Scripture alone is enough. As John Owen is said to have said, “If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are unnecessary, and if they disagree, they are false.”
Le Peau’s mention of the examen was just that, a mere passing mention, as was the mention of leadership being restricted to white men. The dreams issue was half a page. Three small portions of a long book full of good ideas. I would feel bad if I failed to mention them and then some sister goes forward seeking dreams for her writing or pursues Catholic mysticism as a legitimate way of confronting one’s conscience.
As long as I was on the writing/reading improvement zone, I also bought Words for Readers and Writers: Spirit-Pooled Dialogues by Larry Woiwode, and Writers to Read: Nine Names That Belong on Your Bookshelf by Douglas Wilson. I’ll let you know how those were after I finish them!
Thanks for reading. I hope I ‘wrote better.’ 😉