Category: Book Reviews

Writing and the Spirit

Author: Ken Kuhlken

Writing and the Spirit is an inspirational book that helps combine the joys of writing with the love for Christ. The abundance of thought provoking material on attitudes, habits and practices are not only inspirational, but helps a writer gain perspective of the spirit as she performs her craft.

Reading about the Holy Spirit, and at the same time being told to relish the uniqueness in even the most sinister of antagonists was quite the paradox. We are quickly directed to what The Old Testament tells us, that beauty resides in all things. A dark and sinister character should be developed in such a way that reminds us to avoid passing judgement on them. Like Dostoyevski, we should strive to truly know and love all our characters. Everyone has a background and uniqueness, and their motives and quirks should be presented in such a way that reminds us to avoid passing judgement on them. Emulate Dostoyevski’s dramatic structure where every scene has a character suffering a setback, reversal, or disaster.

To better express our uniqueness as a writer, and allow ourselves to be open to the spirit that moves us, we should abide by 1 Corinthians 2:16 which tells us, “But we have the mind of Christ.” We should minimize the cliche’s of sentimentality, propagandizing, and pornography, and accept the capabilities Christ gave us to tune in and accept his divine hope. We must realized what Joseph Campbell suggests, that following our bliss and promises without fear, doors that we didn’t know existed will open for us.

If our hearts are open to the spirit, it will deliver us with wisdom, but it is our job to deliver that wisdom. Making writing our top priority, the spirit will seek out those who can help and guide us, Blessing those who have helped guide us. We must allow the spirit to drive us, filling our hearts with the qualities of Christ.

Raymond Carver suggests we write every day without anxiety or ambition, which only takes away from our imagination and the spirit that moves us. Writing requires peace of mind, leaving our thoughts of ambition outside the door from which we write. We need to listen to Alan Ginsberg who suggests, we loosen our minds and accept contradictions without aggressively grasping for answers. Trusting in the magic of chance is accepting the generosity of the spirit that moves us. Nothing drives our attitudes, habits and challenges more than the opportunity to write in peace.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” We mustn’t fear our writing or the results it produces, but write for the love of writing.

We must write like journalists, focusing on painting pictures with words, and clarifying the obscure and simplifying the complex. We must incorporate brevity, taking out every paragraph, sentence and word that does not propel the story forward. While adhering to the rules of writing, it is for our betterment that we realize the reason for the rules.

It was obvious the author was a Dostoyevski fan, as the ending of the book was more of a summary of The Brothers Karamazov, which was difficult to tie in with the major content of the book.

Although a short book, just under seventy pages, it is is not meant to be fast read. There are too many passages that leave one to stop and ponder about ones own perceptions of writing and the Holy Spirit. For me, it was a reminder of how important revision is. Like a story continuously being rewritten and revised, so shall we do with our lives, allowing the spirit to exhibit truth and honesty so we can love, write, and become more of a person in the eyes of Christ.

Writing and the Spirit is a good read, and I recommend it for Christians and people of any Faith.


Elements of Style

I became familiar with Elements of Style in my journalism class while attending Perelandra College. Since then, it has remained as my “go to” guide when I have a question about English grammar.

Elements of Style was originally written in 1918 by William Strunk Jr., as a textbook for his Cornell English class. Resembling more of a condensed reference book than textbook, Elements of Style touches on the most common mistakes found in writing including: basic grammar rules; punctuation usage; principles of composition; matters of form; and even the most commonly misspelled words. Nearly all explanations are rife with examples. Listed below are ten rules from Elements of Style that I try and apply; improving myself as a writer.

1. Determining apostrophe usage with possessive singular nouns.

2. Omitting needless words; making my writing tighter with more clarity. For example, avoiding “who is,” and “which was,” and other superfluous words that can are deemed verbal camouflage.

3. Maintaining one tense throughout.

4. Distinguishing between the usage of comma’s, colon’s, and semi-colons. For example: enclosing parenthetic expressions between commas (if the sentence can stand on its own without the parenthetic expression then commas are necessary); and replacing a comma with a semi-colon when joining two or more independent clauses.

5. One piece of dialog is a single paragraph, even if its one word. Often times I see: “Let’s go Jim,” said Joe, then continued, “we’re going to be late.” This type of sentence breaks the rule. Is this correct?

6. The active voice is more direct and vigorous than the passive voice.

7. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, and non-committal language. Use words that are more concise and positive.

8. Shorter sentences are preferred over longer sentences.

9. If it is obvious who is speaking, there is no reason to say, “he said,” after the dialog.

10. Most of the words and expressions. For example: all right; whether; certainly; and fewer instead of less.

Elements of Style continues to endure its reputation as the premier handbook for English language usage today. As long as I write, Elements of Style will be by my side.

On Writing Well

 A sacred testament to writers of all forms and abilities, William Zinsser’s, On Writing Well, continues to thrive today as it has since its first publication in 1976. Though Zinsser emphasizes writing tools and techniques for writers of nonfiction, fiction writers reap substantial benefits as well. Just over three hundred pages, the adrenaline rush of information kept me reading from cover to cover, completing highlights and notes, in less time than it takes to cook a twenty pound turkey.

Zinsser informs us that a writer needs to treat his craft like he would any job; setting a schedule and sticking to it, even when he doesn’t feel like it. No excuse for calling in sick when you’re a writer. Like any job, a writer needs his tools by his side; a good dictionary, thesaurus, and E.B. White’s, Elements of Style.

Similar to a writer of nonfiction, a fiction writer needs to recognize the difference between clutter, or “verbal camouflage,” as Zinsser refers to it. He expresses the importance of word choice, distinguishing between nouns, active verbs, adjectives, and those poisonous adverbs. In addition, all writers need to have a command for punctuation, which he briefly reviews.

While On Writing Well, is geared for the creative nonfiction writer, Zinsser dedicates several chapters to stressing the gravity of structure in ways from which a fiction writer can surely benefit. He also points out that a good writer of any genre needs to maintain unity of POV, tense and mood, propelling the reader through comfortable paragraph lengths towards a surprise ending. He reminds us that, “the essence of writing is rewriting.”

On Writing Well is rife with examples all writers should heed. As Zinsser quotes: “You will write only as well as you make yourself write.”

Robinson Crusoe

Title: Robinson Crusoe

Author: Daniel DeFoe

Publisher: Broadview Press

Copyright: April 26, 2010

ISBN: 9781551119359 / 1551119358

Format: Paperback

Genre: Adventure

Part of a Series: No

Imagine living on an exotic island. Sound romantic? Now imagine being shipwrecked and swept away with only the sea’s currents as your guide. Imagine living on the bare minimum – with nature housing your supplies. Enter, the solitary world of Robinson Crusoe. This is a novel for the adventurous; the thrill seeker of any age. Unlike Cast Away which reeks of love for the motivation to survive, the life of Robinson Crusoe confronts the reality of coping with solitude in an unfamiliar environment with unpredicted conditions.

The story begins in 17th century England, with the majority of the tale on an unknown Caribbean island. The protagonist, Robinson Crusoe defies his father’s wishes to continue his studies, and ventures out on a merchant ship. The ship is caught on a sand barge and eventually sinks, but not before Crusoe loots the ship of useful necessities. Crusoe is washed up on the shore of an uncivilized Caribbean island. Discovering his neighbors are cannibals, he teaches himself survival skills, and constructs a castle, “When I came to my castle (for so I think I called it ever after this)… ,” which was more of an extravagant tree house – a vivid reminder of Swiss Family Robinson. After several years of solitude, sickness and fright, Crusoe becomes friends with a native cannibal who he names, “Friday.” Overtime, Crusoe teaches Friday English, and teaches him about God. Friday becomes Crusoe’s sidekick as they experience adventures and personal conflict throughout their friendship on the island.

Daniel DeFoe writes the story in a romantic first person narrative, using the powerful word, “I” as he depicts his recollections in a journal. It is only after Crusoe is stranded, that he runs out of ink and proceeds to tell the story verbally, remaining in first person. Unlike Dicken’s, Austen, or Shakespeare, DeFoe’s writing is not intimidating. DeFoe even demonstrates the broken English of Crusoe’s aboriginal friend, Friday.

Obsessed with thoughts of escape and survival, Crusoe eventually accepts his fate of forever solitude after constructing a canoe which is too large and heavy to move into the water. With all hope vanished, his concentration turns to the planting and sowing of corn, while exploring the island. Crusoe rejects the idea of ever being idle. This is a story of perseverance through hardships on a quest for survival.

Accepting his destiny, DeFoe reminds us throughout the novel, of Crusoe’s fear of never seeing another civilized human again, yet when he finds ‘a footprint’ on the sand near his castle, he begins to lose confidence in God, and compares man to the devil.

DeFoe’s novel of courage and desperation is sure to inspire even the faint of heart. I found it to be refreshing and imaginative for the era in which it was written. The 1600’s and 1700’s were filled with upheaval and experiences people would rather have forgotten. God was a blessing to many, and DeFoe’s, Robinson Crusoe, was a pleasant relief from the reality people were forced to endure. I found it to be a believable experience and would highly recommend this story to people of all ages. If I were to give it a star rating, it would be a FIVE, but that’s only because I have a thirst for the life of pirates and the Caribbean islands.