Lessons from the Past Six Months on Writing

By the time Coffeehouse Theology was released in September 2008, I was well on my way with my next book project—writing stories, searching for articles, and testing out ideas. I had one foot in marketing and the other in a new project on evangelicals: Saving Evangelicals from Themselves: Where We’ve Gone Wrong and Why We Have Hope. Without the head start seminary afforded on Coffeehouse Theology, I learned a few lessons in the course of writing a first draft for a book completely from scratch.

Using del.icio.us to not only tag and organize links, but to also set aside material worthy of a quotation made the research process much easier. At first I just tagged everything that looked relevant, but soon I realized that it helps to read the articles first rather than assuming I’d read them later. I rarely did that! So I read through, highlighted the section I wanted to quote, and then tagged them. By highlighting a section, I could then find it on my del.icio.us bookmarks without have to reread the whole article.

Small sticky notes make it much easier to find quotations from books. I had a system of using small sticky notes as tabs sticking out of books. I’d typically stick the note to the page, make a bracket around the relevant text, and then jot a few words connecting the quote with a particular chapter. I later found that many of my quotes didn’t fit, but without taking the time to mark everything that seemed important, I doubt I would have been able to find enough helpful quotations to pull from the many books I read.

Lining up readers for your drafts is absolutely essential. I received invaluable advice from my readers who soldiered through my early drafts. One chapter needed to be deleted, while another began with too much intensity. In both cases my readers helped prompt significant changes to my book that I believe will make it more successful.

Writing down many of my stories and anecdotes months before I began seriously working on the chapters helped me sort through the most important topics to be covered in the book. This book could have taken a couple of different directions, but I wanted it to unfold as organically as possible, letting my stories direct and shape the overall direction and point of the book. By starting with a solid core of stories totaling 30,000 words, I quickly ruled out certain chapters that would not have enough substance to work within the parameters I had established for the book.

Anything written can be deleted. I have found that I am continually amazed at what ends up working and what ends up being tossing into the “scraps” folder. Never tire of using the delete button.