Pens Should Be Mightier than Toilet Plungers

Martin Espada wrote this advice to young poets in The Republic of Poetry, but it applies to all writers, Christian bloggers included.

Advice to Young Poets

Never pretend
to be a unicorn
by sticking a plunger on your head.

Let me just extract a few editorial lessons here.

1) “Never pretend.” Good words are always true. Period. Of course, they may not be factual. But they are true. Tim O’Brien calls this the difference between happening truth and story truth. In fact, facts and statistics can lie. That is, they can be used to imply conclusions that aren’t true. (This doesn’t mean you should pretend something is factual when it isn’t, ala A Million Little Pieces.) But it does mean writers and poets and bloggers create truth. Why else should we bother to write?

2) Be a unicorn. Good writers make extraordinary goals. Good writing transforms the reader and the writer. It is no exaggeration to say that I was transformed several weeks ago by reading Cormac McCarthy’s stunning novel, The Road. When readers are transformed by a writer, they will come back for more.

3) Poo may shock an audience, but it will still smell like poo. Another way to say this: Confessional writing should never glorify the sin. The grimy details of your past aren’t necessarily the best source for inspiring others. Neither are the evils of the world. We live in a redeemed world. Conflict is often filthy and gritty, true, but a writer’s goal is not filth or grit for its own sake. A writer’s goal is truth.

Every writer has a call to action. A novelist wants the most simple action of all—for the reader to keep turning the page.

Different bloggers have different calls to action. Over at I’m just looking for good conversation and comments. In a comment there, one reader told me she was looking for questions (among other things). Liz Strauss is completely straightforward about what she wants her readers to do: “take conversations here back to their readers.” If that’s not enough, she clarifies even more:

The idea was that anyone who took the discussion back to their blog would let me know. Then I would give that blog recognition on Successful-Blog for extending the conversation into the blogosphere–making the community larger, the dialogue bigger, all of us smarter, better and our businesses stronger.

Sometimes, in our eagerness to reach a specific goal, we manipulate readers. We lie to them—in form or content or style or substance. We deceive them, so they will do what we want. This is why Brian Clarke doesn’t like the term “link bait,” I think. It suggests the goal is of hooking a reader is more important than the way we hook them.

There’s only one way to hook a reader. Good words. Good words have truth and beauty. Truth and beauty will transform the world.

1 Comment

  1. Great post, Marcus. Thank you.

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