02 September 2012

"Use the Pen"

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from "Use the Pen," The Sword and the Trowel, 1881. 

"If the world should last another five hundred years, the author of an immortal sentence will continue to speak from the glowing page. The press performs marvels."

Good men there have been and are who could do far more service for God and his church by their pens if they would write less and write better. They flood our second-rate magazines with torrents of very watery matter; their style is slipshod to a slovenly degree; their thoughts are superficial; their illustrations hackneyed; they weary where they mean to win. Let such brethren take time to mend their pens, the world will continue to rotate upon its own axis if we do not see their names next month at the head of an article. Work must be put into papers if they are to last. Easy writing is usually hard reading. The common reader may not observe the absence of honest work in a poem, sermon, or magazine article, but he manifestly feels the influence of it, for he finds the page uninteresting, and either goes to sleep over it or lays it down. Young man, earnest in spirit, if you have any power with the pen, make up your mind to cultivate it. Do your best every time you compose. Never offer to God that which has cost you nothing. Do not believe that good writing is natural to you, and that you need not revise; articles will not leap out of your brain in perfect condition as the fabled Minerva sprang from the head of Jove. Read the great authors, that you may know what English is; you will find it to be a language very rarely written nowadays, and yet the grandest of all human tongues. Write in transparent words, such as bear your meaning upon their forefront, and let them be well chosen, correctly arranged, and attractively ordered. Make up your mind to excel. Aim high, and evermore push on, believing that your best efforts should only be stepping stones to something better. The very best style you can attain will be none too good for the glorious themes upon which you write.

But, remember, there is a more material business than mere excellence of composition. Your manner is important, but your matter is far more so. Tell us something well worth knowing when you write. It is folly to open your mouth merely to show your teeth; have something to say, or speak not at all: ink is better in the bottle than on the paper if you have nothing to communicate. Instruct us, impress us, interest and improve us, or at least try to do so. It is a poor achievement to have concocted a book in which there is neither good nor hurt, a chip in the porridge, a correctly composed nothing; but to have pleaded with men affectionately, or to have taught them efficiently, is a result worthy of a life of effort. Try, brother, not because it is easy, but because it is worth doing. Write until you can write; burn half a ton of paper in the attempt, it will be fare better in the flames than at the printer’s; but labour on till you succeed. To be a soul-winner by your books when your bones have mouldered is an ambition worthy of the noblest genius, and even to have brought hearts to Jesus by an ephemeral paper in a halfpenny periodical is an honour which a cherub might envy.

Do not be thin-skinned, but accept severe criticism as a genuine kindness. Write legibly if you expect your article to be accepted by an editor: he cannot waste time in deciphering your hieroglyphics. Condense as much as possible, for space is precious, and verbiage is wearisome. Put as much fact as you can into every essay, it is always more interesting than opinion; narratives will be read when sentiments are slighted. Keep the main end in view, but aim at it prudently; do not worry readers with ill-timed moralisings and forced reflections. Ask a blessing on what you compose, and never pen a sentence you will on your dying-bed desire to blot. If you attend to these things, we shall not repent of having said to you, “Use the pen.”


James Scott Bell said...

Timeless and essential advice for bloggers in this day and age, eh what? Esp:

Condense as much as possible, for space is precious, and verbiage is wearisome.

artfling said...

For this public school, 6th grade language arts teacher, that was a lovely scolding. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

Linda said...

"Read the great authors, that you may know what English is; you will find it to be a language very rarely written nowadays,"

oh my word,, if it was bad then, what is it now?

If someone like Spurgeon were alive today, he would probably jump out of his skin in horror at how technologically advanced we are in our stupidity.

Joel said...

Ink in a bottle is better than on paper if you have nothing to communicate...I wonder how many writers and speakers could have made a better contribution to this world, if leaving communication to those who are called to this purpose? Imagine tons of papers and saving thousands trees, millions of gallons of gas and electricity. But to preachers called by God, the foolishness of preaching is greatly being used.

Ken Brown said...

Thank you that in posting this for us you have in part fulfilled the purpose for which it was penned. Easy access to a public forum has lowered the discourse of man to a severe degree.

Mike Mittelstadt said...

As a newspaper copy editor (though you wouldn't know it from the typos in many of my online posts) and a former reporter, I agree heartily.
Typing "LOL" and suchlike on a tiny gadget while walking along the street (or worse, while driving a car) isn't writing OR communicating properly. But sadly, in the 21st century, this is what's taking over the world....
(By the way, I love to read Spurgeon's writing in his original words. I have been dismayed to discover, more than once, that a Spurgeon book I have purchased is a "modern English" version.)

Kerry James Allen said...

Two rules of thumb regarding CHS' writings: Many of the reprints are heavily edited including omissions and additions without acknowledgement of same, and many quotes attributed to CHS are either not his or are altered after being passed around.