Hot Tips: How to Write for the Rest of Your Life

I just finished this book, giggling.


It was recommended to me by a choir director, and I bought it with a gift card from my pastor. How’s that for pious?

I wasn’t sure how I would enjoy reading a book about writing, but Douglas Wilson makes it bearable. His writing is an amusing mix of G.K. Chesterton, P.G. Wodehouse, and that snarky southern uncle on your dad’s side. In short, Wilson is a conservative Reformed and evangelical theologian and also a prolific writer. He has interesting ideas about Christian education and also valuable grandfatherly wisdom regarding what it takes to “be” a writer.

Wilson describes what kind of life a writer lives. He uncovers tools that all the best writers wield regularly. And everything he tells you about writing, he uses somewhere in the book.

Reading this book confirmed my suspicion that being a writer takes a lot of work. One does not simply snag a table at the closest coffee shop, macbook and latte in hand, and get published. Good writing comes with education, experience, and with age. Writing is also a lifestyle. Wilson confirms another of my suspicions: writers must read. (Sigh. I guess I’ll be taking up THAT hobby again. I’ve just really struggled to keep reading in college!) You’ve got to read so you know who to sound like. You expand your world by reading widely.

The book is peppered with wit and wisdom, but mainly just a ton of really valuable writing and lifestyle advice. (The question is: will I heed it?)

There are also laugh out loud moments. Wilson describes the attitudes of many young writers:

“The aspiring writer would like to graduate from college at twenty-two, marry at twenty-three, and land a major book deal at twenty-four. While the right kind of ambition is good, it rarely works like that. And even if you did have a major book deal at twenty-four, you would hardly have a vast reservoir of experiences to draw from. There was that time when you went sledding with your college buddies and broke your finger. Anything else?”

And a little sarcasm, regarding his own recommendation to read one to two books a week:

“If you begin this when you were thirty and joined the choir invisible when you were seventy, you would have read, over this course of time, between 2,080 and 4,160 books. It is quite true that you run the risk of learning something, but these are the risks a writer must take.”

My favorite moment, however, was reading Wilson’s literary opinion of Eugene Peterson’s (cringe-inducing?) translation of the Message (particularly the Psalms). I’m not trying to be cynical here, but it was truly fascinating to hear a scholarly critique of this Bible translation/paraphrase from a professor and literary genius. But, of course, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

Do yourself a favor. Order Hot Tips.

Or check out Wilson’s blog at …He’s entitled it, “Blog and Mablog.” (Giggle.)

2 thoughts on “Hot Tips: How to Write for the Rest of Your Life”

  1. I like this. Reading and writing certainly go hand in hand. When I land upon an author that speaks to my style, like Marilynne Robinson, I read her books tirelessly, watch interviews and try and see what it is that makes her style unique.

    Some things that I have done since university to make sure I DO write regularly is to be the person in the coffee shop, latte and macbook in hand and getting published instantly. The beauty about blogs are that you ARE published instantly; forcing yourself to write, stick to a schedule and mill out words may seem like an insult to the art, but for me it is establishing the comfort that comes with having people’s eyeballs on your work. Is it good every time – no, I assure you!

    I think the other thing is that writers need to be around other writers. I meet with a group of friends that recommend books, fiercely edit my work and suggest my short fallings.

    I do disagree with Wilson in the way that young writers CAN be good writers for the same reason why he discredits them – young people are full of a vitality and an inexperience that while not seasoned, is something that is holistic and worth reading. I am thinking of something like Night Street by Thornell – she writes the imagined biography of a long forgotten painter. Does she have a life story to tell? No and it would be about as appropriate as Justin Bieber’s biography, but it is an intelligent and unique probing at a life imagined.

    Whew! Now that this manifesto is written, I am going to go order his book!

    I wish you were closer – I would love to have these chats in person!!

    1. I think Wilson shares your sentiments about blogging. He would definitely encourage all kinds of writing practice. (He himself updates his own blog multiple times a DAY.)
      Though I think by “published” he means more polished, finished work (or even a physical book).
      My own fear with blogging is that I will work less at perfecting my craft, and I will spend more time churning out crummy posts. But I think Wilson would disagree with ME here by saying that we develop as writers by practice, much like athletes get better through daily workouts. So he would say there is worth in producing quantity because during that practice, you, the writer, are changing.

      Jess! I would love to have these chats with you in person! 🙂

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