What I know about writing

Dr Paul Barnett

by Paul Barnett

I can't account for my interest in writing. In fact, I did not publish my first book until I was over 50 (Is the New Testament History?).

I had, though, attempted to write a commentary on Second Corinthians for the Bible Speaks Today series, but my several drafts had been so heavily criticised I had virtually given up.  Then a new editor was appointed who took pity on me and it finally appeared.

This event revealed a latent passion that has indeed become a passion.  Not always a healthy passion.

I sometimes think that writing is a kind of a sickness. 

Books have had a special place in God's revelation of himself to the world. Our Bible is a collection of sixty-six "books' from dozens of writers. The teachers and prophets under the Old Covenant felt impelled to write their words down for people to have them read to them. Likewise, the disciples of the Lord quickly put his words and deeds into written form. The opening lines of Luke's Gospel make that clear. That Gospel, like the other three, sees Jesus to be the God-given fulfilment of the promises of the Law and the Prophets. Thus the writings of the apostles are connected with those of the prophets to become one volume, the Sacred Writings or Holy Scriptures. About one thing, at least, the Qur'an is correct, Christians are "the people of the book'. 

At a personal level I have mixed feelings about writing.  Hopefully books I write are of some help.  Writing keeps your mind fresh and forces you to know what is happening in your field.  I have to say, though, that I don't think writing always makes you better person.  Because it is so focused it tends to exclude other things, in particular it may shrink you as a relating being.  I suspect there is a particular form of suffering for spouses of writers.  The book of the moment becomes your world, as it must.  You suffer from the glazed eye syndrome; the mind is elsewhere.  Anita encourages me as a writer, but it is not easy for her.  "It's like living with someone who has been doing a PhD for twenty years', she said.

The answer I have sought (with mixed success) is to limit writing to particular times of the day and to days of the week, even to months of the year.  Self-discipline is critical.  You have to turn off the computer and switch your mind off from that book.  Dig the garden. Read something else. Get out and see the big game. Go fishing. Play with grandchildren. Go to the movies. But then switch on the computer and write a few more pages. Above all, don't just be thinking of finishing the book and the intermediate deadlines. Enjoy the journey and don't just be thinking about arriving.