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The Power of the Pen

By Bob and Rose Weiner
Published March 1, 1993

The pages of thy book I read,
And as I closed each one,
My heart, responding, ever said,
“Servant of God! Well done!”

Well done! Thy words are great and bold;
At times they seem to me,
Like Luther’s in the days of old,
Half-battles for the free.

A voice is ever at thy side
Speaking in tones of might,
Like the prophetic voice, that cried
To John in Patmos, “Write!”

THE SOUL OF HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW was stirred as he read William E. Channing’s essay on the evils of slavery. In response, he composed the above poem above to encourage Channing to continue to use his pen to cry out against slavery’s ills.

Recognizing the power of the written word to move the hearts of men, Napoleon Bonaparte – in the height of his military career – stated: “There are only two powers in the world, the sword and the pen; and in the end the former is always conquered by the latter.” We must never underestimate the power of the written word to influence the human race. Throughout history God has used writers to accomplish His purposes.

In Jeremiah, God spoke saying, “Take a scroll and write on it all the words which I have spoken to you” (Jer. 36:2). To Isaiah, the Lord said, “Take for yourself a large tablet and write on it … inscribe it on a scroll that it may serve in time to come as a witness forever” (Isa. 8:1). To Habakkuk, the prophet, God commanded: “Record the vision, and inscribe it on tablets (make it plain) that the one who reads it may run” (Hab. 2:2).

To John on the Isle of Patmos, He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true” (Rev. 21:5). Throughout the Bible, God commanded His servants to not only preach His Word, but charged them to write down everything He told them. Why? God knew the importance of the written word to sway the hearts of men and women. He also recognized the value of writing to preserve truth for posterity and to ensure the progress of the human race.

In civilizations where there has been a total lack of education and a failure on the part of its inhabitants to record happenings and discoveries, history records that its people progress very little, even after centuries have gone by. With no previous knowledge to build on, the people must rediscover and relearn what the earlier generations failed to record.

When the Pilgrims landed on our Northeastern shores, they found the American Indians in the same state as their fathers had been for centuries – because of the lack of a written language and body of literature.

God also understands the value of writing to develop the thinking and reasoning processes. The investigator (whether scientist, researcher or student) who neglects to record his or her findings will find it difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at a conclusion. Think of what would have happened to Thomas Edison if he had failed to record his experiments on the electric light bulb – which totaled to 10,000. How far would he have gotten in his investigations before he began to repeat himself and give up his research as hopeless?

In fact, it is in the writing of thoughts that many answers often occur. David found this to be true. As he was instructing Solomon on the plans that he had drawn up for building the temple of the Lord, he explained, “All this the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, all the details of this pattern” (1 Chron. 28:19). It was in the recording of the ideas that he had for the temple that the Lord caused David to understand every detail.

Nineteenth century orator Henry Ward Beecher made this observation: “Thinking cannot be clear till it has had expression. We must write, or speak, or act our thoughts, or they will remain in a half torbid form. Our feelings must have expression, or they will be clouds, which till they descend as raid, will never bring up fruit or flower. So it is with the inward feelings; expression gives them development.”

The classic Pilgrim’s Progress is a prime example of this principle. John Bunyan wrote this famous book while he was in prison, having been incarcerated for preaching in the fields in his efforts to reform the Church of England.

Bunyan explained that when he began his allegory, he did not intend to write a book. Rather, was trying to divert his mind from despair while in prison. He stated that he never intended to show the writings to anyone but was merely writing to gratify himself. The manner in which the allegory came to his mind is exemplary of the importance of writing to develop thoughts. Bunyan writes:

When at the first I took my pen in hand,
Thus for to write, I did not understand
that I at all should make a little book
In such a mode: nay, I had undertook
To make another; which when almost done,
Before I was aware I this began.

And thus it was: I writing of the way
And race of saints, in this our gospel day,
Fell suddenly into an allegory
About their journey, and the way to glory,
In more than twenty things which I set down;
This done, I twenty more had in my crown;
And they again began to multiply,
Like sparks that from the coals of fire do fly.

Nay, then, thought I, if that you bred so fast
I’ll put you by yourselves lest you at last
Should prove ad infinitum, and eat out
The book that I already am about.
Well, so I did, but yet I did not think
To show to all the world my pen and ink
In such a mode; I only thought to make
I knew not what: nor did I undertake
Thereby to please my neighbor; no, not I;
I did it mine own self to gratify.

Neither did I but vacant seasons spend
In this my scribble: nor did I intend
but to divert myself in doing this,
From worser thoughts which make me do amiss.

Thus I set pen to paper with delight,
And quickly had my thoughts in black and white.
For having now my method by the end,
Still as I pulled, it came; and so I penned
It down: until it came at last to be,
For length and breadth, the bigness which you see.

Bunyan clearly states that as he wrote, a progression of though occurred. It was in the writing that understanding came to him. What kind of influence did this book have that was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in such a manner? Over 300 years of existence, the Pilgrim’s tale has crossed the barriers of race and culture and penetrated deeply for three centuries into the whole world.

Pilgrim’s Progress has been translated into many languages, some of which were unknown to Europe when Bunyan lived. It has been read by Protestants, Catholics, Moslems, American Indians and South Sea Islanders. It is the supreme classic of the English Puritan tradition and has carried the “heroic image of militant Puritanism” to worldwide audiences.

Bunyan’s classic has not been limited to adult readers. It was a favorite among children in the colonial days of America. It’s spiritual and moral outlook helped mold the children who, as men and women, gave us this great Republic in which we live. What a tragedy if Bunyan had not been one who took his thoughts seriously or had not been disciplined in the art of incorporating writing with his meditations.

Some Practical Suggestions

For those who have read this far and have felt a stirring in their soul, accompanied with a desire to become more adept in the discipline of writing, the following suggestions are offered:

Practice putting your thoughts into writing. Many people think that unless they have an idea for writing a book, or have someone asking them to publish something, there is no reason to write. A person who entertains this thinking will most certainly never be asked to write anything. It is supply that creates a demand. Why should anyone be asked to write a book or article, if their writing has never been seen or read by anyone?

Writing skills are developed through practice. It is in the doing that you learn to become a good writer. Writing should always accompany your reading. When reading a book, stop and close your book after each chapter and try to express on paper what the author has said.

Ben Franklin’s Advice

Benjamin Franklin taught himself to write. He later wrote and published Poor Richard’s Almanac, which was circulated throughout early America and Europe and was responsible for providing the practical common sense and moral wisdom that helped build the character of Colonial America. Here are a few of Franklin’s suggestions:

“Having chosen a book which was excellently written, I chose to imitate it. With this view I took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my writings with the original, discovered some of my faults and corrected them …

“I took some of the tales and turned them into verse, and after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again. I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and complete the paper. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts.

“By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many faults and amended them. But I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious.

“My time for these exercises and for reading was at night, after work, or before it began in the morning…When my brother and the rest were going from the printing house to their meals, I remained there alone … eating no more than a slice of bread, a handful of raisins or a tart from the pastry-cook’s and a glass of water. I had the rest of the time till their return for study, in which I made the greater progress, from the greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension which usually attend temperance in eating and drinking.”

Advice from the 19th Century

A textbook from the 1800’s gives some other helpful suggestions:

“It will be beneficial to read aloud what you have written. If you have a literary friend, ask for his corrections and submit to his help. Make sure that you want advice and are not just looking for someone to admire your work. Keep a diary and describe scenes where you have seen or events you have witnessed.

“Good writing takes study and long practice. If you are never at a loss for words and your pen races across the page, take it as a fault to be avoided. Pause, reflect, and read what you have written and try to condense your thoughts and express them in fewer words.

“After having condensed your thoughts as much as possible, take your final copy and strike out without mercy every superfluous word, and substitute a vigorous or expressive word for a weak one. Sacrifice as many adjectives as possible without regret. When this has been done, rewrite the whole thing making the necessary corrections. To see what you have gained be sure to compare the completed essay with the first draft.

“Simplicity is the charm of writing. Don’t try to disguise what you have to say by beating around the bush. Be direct and to the point. Rambling sentences are most often the result of confused thought. As you purpose to write clearly, your thoughts will begin to become clear and definite. Your ability to express yourself in conversation and speaking will take on new skill and acuteness. Putting your thoughts on paper will reveal to you whether your thoughts are incomplete and shadowy.”

Suggestions From 20th Century Analyst

Claude C. Cox, in Everyone is a Writer, gives these directives on writing: “Use strong nouns and verbs to communicate your meaning. Be careful not to blur the image by using unnecessary adjectives and adverbs or by using unfamiliar terms. Call a “spade” a “spade,” not an “implement of husbandry.” The verb “hurl,” for example, is stronger than “toss” or “throw.” “Jesus wept” is much strong than, “Jesus sat down and produced a geyser of tears.” Remember, the object of writing is to communicate. If communications has not taken place, then you are not writing.

“Don’t chase rabbits in your writing. Be like a hunter with a rifle, not a shotgunner. Remember a shotgunner aims in the general direction of the target and then fires, hoping the buckshot will hit something. The rifleman aims at one single target and hits the most vulnerable spot.”

As you become more adept at writing, watch out for over-revision. If too much erasing is done in the drawing of an artist, it is possible to kill the drawing by overworking it. The same danger is possible in writing.

Claude Cox further states, “Revising a script is a thing of tedious balance and must be done with care. One danger is over-revision. By going back to a script that was done spontaneously, when the creative juices were flowing, and giving it the high school English teacher’s approach, you can rip the life out of a piece of writing.

“On the other hand, if you go back to your script with objectivity instead of subjectivity, and fine-tune a word here and a phrase there, it can be improved. Most professional authors and screenwriters I know have one problem in common. At times they sit down to write, and nothing leaves the brain and travels down to the fingers on the typewriter keys. It happens to us all.

“How do you cope with the malady? Some people wait until the last minute to write, and are forced to put something on paper whether it is good or not. This can work, but usually the script suffers. Many professionals will do additional reading and research into the topic, and most of the time an idea with emerge. Others may discuss the topic with anyone – either knowledgeable or ignorant of the subject – and be stimulated by something that is said in the conversation.

“Most writers conquer this problem by using discipline. Some people set aside a particular time of each day for research and study, and allow nothing to interfere. Also, during that same day, these people set aside a certain block of time to write.

“My cure for the stagnant mind is to sit down well ahead of any deadline and put something – anything – on paper. The trick is getting off dead center. What I usually put on paper is something somewhat relative to the subject, but without any thought or form … For me writing comes easy, once I get almost anything on paper that can give me a springboard … From the point that the mental barrier has been broken, most any writer can wade into his task.”

The Power Behind the Form

While we have mentioned various methods to improve our writing skills, we must not neglect to consider the content for a moment. We will relate this to the principle of power and form. Good writing skills provide the form. We must never forget, however, that it is within the content that the power of the writing lies. Good content, God-inspired, God-breathed content, gives power and life to the writing, causing it to reach down and touch the hearts and lives of men and women … changing them forever. God-inspired content gives writing permanence, enabling it to withstand the tests of time. God-inspired writing survives when other writings are good for nothing but the rubbish heap, and continues to bring God’s message home to the hearts of generations yet unborn.

A river without a channel is considered a flood, unwelcomed and abhorred. The power of the river is there, but undirected and unchanneled it is a source of devastation and destruction. A channel – no matter how great and appropriate its form – is nothing more than an empty gully without the power of the river flowing through it. It deserves to be filled up with the rubble and trash of those who pass by. It is useless to humanity.

However, a channel flowing with the power of the river that it contains is of great benefit to mankind, bringing life and fertility everywhere it flows. So it is with writing inspired by God’s Spirit. It brings life, productivity and reformation everywhere it goes.

One of the greatest needs of this hour is this God-breathed writing that addresses the spiritual, social, political and educational concerns of today. In writing today, we need to hear that same Voice that stood beside the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos, which is bringing a message of hope, and calling mankind into accountability.

Writing Inspired by God’s Spirit

God’s writers spend much time in secret, cultivating not only their ability to hear the still small voice of God’s Spirit, but also developing their ability to write down what that Voice is saying. For writing to affect a nation and be a catalyst to bring reformation, the writer must be on fire with a message from God.

Jeremiah the prophet explained this experience by saying that God’s words were as “fire shut up within his bones” that he could not hold in. God spoke through Jeremiah proclaiming, “Is not My word like fire, and like a hammer which shatters a rock? … But who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? … I did not send these prophets but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds” (Jer. 23:29,18,21-22).

Writing inspired by the Spirit of God always stirs the soul, strikes the mark, and brings desired results. David recorded that he mused on the precepts of God, rolling them over and over in his mind until the fire began to burn in his spirit. Habakkuk, the prophet, reported that it was when he stationed himself on his rampart, and kept watch like a watchman listening in the night, that God spoke to him and gave him vision and direction. David cried out: “I wait for the Lord more than the watchman waits for the morning.”

In the forming of our nation, the greatest writings for truth and justice have been written under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. Julia Ward Howe, in her song “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” explained that after she had visited the camp of the Union army during the Civil War, the words of the hymn seized her mind as one powerful impression – as if the hymn had been shaped by itself. As she brooded over this dark moment of the Civil War, the teaching of her childhood arose from her deepest memory. The song is an allegory about the victory of Christian principles.

The song emphasized the power of the Word of God, when preached, to destroy evil and to overthrow the strongest forces of this world. The words, “He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat,” evoke a lively picture of the unrelenting fight against evil until truth shall be victorious and the world comes under the reign of Christ. Still, over 100 years later, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” retains the power to stir the hearts of Americans everywhere.

The book Uncle Tom’s Cabi, was written in a manner similar to the “Battle Hymn.” Its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, related that as she sat in church, crying out to God for a way to reach her nation, God spoke to her to write a book revealing the evils of slavery. She went home, locked herself in her room, and under the inspiration of the Spirit of God wrote prophetically the last chapter of what would later become – over a one-year period – Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

In one particular chapter, Stowe retells the story of a slave woman who, with her new baby, was supposedly being sent by boat down the Mississippi to another plantation to join her husband. She and her baby were actually being sold, but her former owners did not have the courage to tell her.

While the slave woman left her sleeping baby to stand at the rail of the ship to watch it depart from shore, the slave trader came and took her baby, and gave the child to someone who had bought him. The woman, upon returning to her seat to tend the baby, was overcome with grief when she found that he was gone. In the middle of the night she cried out, “O Lord! O good Lord, do help me!” Finally, in desperation, and encompassed with a sorrow her heart could no longer bear, the woman threw herself over the side of the boat to meet her death.

Hear the prophetic voice of God’s Spirit as Harriet Beecher Stowe comments on this injustice, “Patience! patience! ye whose hearts swell indignant at wrongs like these. Not one throb of anguish, not one tear of the oppressed, is forgotten by the Man of Sorrows, the Lord of Glory. In His patient, generous bosom He bears the anguish of a world. Bear thou, like him, in patience, and labor in love; for such as He is God, ‘the year of his redeemed shall come.’”

Stowe’s book was originally published in a monthly newspaper one chapter at a time. Fathers read her articles to their sons; mothers read them to their daughters. The newspapers containing her monthly articles were passed around from house to house and soon became illegible because they were so stained with tears.

When Stowe’s articles were finally published in book-form, it was said that rich men could be seen laying on their faces weeping on their yachts, while the common man could be seen weeping on the street.

Abraham Lincoln called Harriet Beecher Stowe to the White House during the Civil War and greeter her by saying, “So you are the little woman who brought on this great Civil War!”

History now bears record that Stowe’s book was a major force in stirring up the public sentiment that finally led to the abolition of slavery in this country.

Such is the power of the pen.

Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved

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