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Wilson, Douglas. Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life. Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2011.

Reviewed by Ian Clary.

“Read boring books on writing mechanics” is one of the many pieces of good advice that Douglas Wilson prescribes in his anything but boring book on how to write. Wilson follows a noble line of writers-on-writing—like William Zinsser, Annie Dillard, and even Stephen King—who entertain as they encourage others in the craft. It is no chore to read Wordsmithy as it might be slogging through the like-sized “Strunk & White.” Readers get the help they need, but with Wilson they are treated to a good chuckle.

Wilson is a writer of many genres, including the theological monograph, haiku poem, satire, short story, and blogpost.  He is the editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine, and is a senior fellow of theology at New St. Andrews College, where he teaches rhetoric. He can be found online at Blog and Mablog ( Wordsmithy reflects the style common to much of his other works; it is funny, memorable, and full of thought-provoking advice. It keeps good company with his earlier book on a similar subject, A Serrated Edge, which is a stout defence of biblical satire.

Wordsmithy is organized around seven simple exhortations to the would-be, the novice, and the professional writer: know the world; read widely; read the tools of the trade; practice various forms; be humble; learn other languages; and take notes. These he outlines in the introduction, elaborates in subsequent chapters, and summarizes in the conclusion. Each exhortation is bolstered by seven more explanatory points. In the second chapter, queasily titled “Read Until Your Brain Creaks,” Wilson tells us to be voracious, wide-readers, who read thoughtfully, and for the love of books; we should plod through quality literature, but not with total discrimination, because sometimes dipping into the slums is okay. After each sub-section, as at the end of each chapter, Wilson suggests further reading, including technical books on grammar, books on how to get published, and a series of titles by P. G. Wodehouse, a Wilson favourite. Admittedly, not every book suggestion seems directly relevant to the chapter; the implied point is to read the book to see how it fits. Wilson’s literary tastes are evident throughout: there are quotes and references to staples like Chesterton, Tolkien, Lewis, Beowulf, and the creator of the inimitable Jeeves.

There is probably not a single piece of advice with which to quibble, all of it will be useful to someone. Stand-out recommendations include the need for humility, especially for the one who has published; keeping a commonplace book; reading mechanical helps; and being a good oral communicator—if you speak well, you will write well. All of this is written in short, punchy chapters, full of pithy sentences that help for memorization like this: “Look at the world, and try not to look at yourself looking at the world” (14). Or this, about “authenticity-mongers”: “These good folks will sell you a smaller carbon footprint, a burlap tote bag, a slate shower, a Che poster, an indie movie that only the true-hearts understand, a trip to the rain forest, a bit of jewelry for your nose, and lots and lost and lots of other stuff” (17).

Wordsmithy is practical and will be good for those who are compelled to scribbling—particularly for Christians, who are Wilson’s primary audience. Beautiful and practical work can be forged in a smithy, but a smith needs the right tools for the trade. Wordsmithy is like the hammer and anvil, that, with other such tools, will fashion words into tempered steal.

Ian Clary, M.A. Theology, Toronto Baptist Seminary

This review was taken from the most recent issue of Credo Magazine, “Old Princeton.” Read others like it today!

To view the Magazine as a PDF {Click Here}

Each of us are indebted to those theologians of ages past who have gone before us, heralding the gospel, and even fighting to their last breath to keep the God of that gospel high and lifted up. It is hard to think of a group of men more worthy of this praise than those of the Old Princeton heritage. Men like Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and many others, stand in this rich heritage, men who defended the faith once for all delivered to the saints against the ever-growing threat of liberalism around them.

Since this year marks the 200th anniversary of Old Princeton (1812-2012), it is fitting that we devote ourselves to remembering and imitating these great theologians of yesterday, not because they are great in and of themselves, but because their example points us to the great and mighty God we worship. And who better to introduce us to these Old Princetonians than James M. Garretson writing on Archibald Alexander, W. Andrew Hoffecker making our acquaintance with Charles Hodge, Fred Zaspel reminding us of B. B. Warfield, and D. G. Hart increasing our love for J. Gresham Machen? Not to mention a very in-depth interview with Paul Helseth on Old Princton and the debate over “right reason.”  May these articles and interviews inspire us so that in our own day we might experience a revival of this rich orthodoxy that has stood the test of time.

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