February 10, 2011

Taming the Preacher Within

A fairly common issue I face in working with writers is a preachy tone. It seems to creep into writing, especially writing that is near and dear to the writer’s heart, or a topic the writer knows a lot about, or anything that is emotionally-charged. Unfortunately, it spells death to gaining readership.

Let’s talk about how to do away with this vice and make writing more palatable to the reader.

Be humble. Let’s face it, a preachy tone often stems from a prideful spirit. Take the pride test: If your predominant thought as you write is, “I’m right, you’re wrong,” you’re operating in pride. It’s wise to take a moment before writing anything and pray, asking God to remove all pride so you can humbly present your case.

Teach, don’t preach. A preacher is commandment-oriented. “This is the command. Do it!” A teacher is people-oriented. A preacher spews out information and let’s the cards fall where they may. A teacher seeks to present the information in a way the student can understand.

Focus on your audience. This goes along with being a teacher. Instead of focusing on yourself, shine the spotlight on your reader. Who is your reader? What does that person need or desire? How can you present the information in a way that is palatable to your reader?

Take “I” out of it. Make sure your work isn’t riddled with statements like:
”In my opinion…”
”I think that…”
”It’s my belief that…”
Too many of these and you’ll come across as self-absorbed.

Take “you” out of it. Have you ever been in a church where the preacher constantly talked about all the things “you” ought to do? How did it make you feel? Did you feel condemned as if somehow the preacher was on a superior level to “you"?” That’s how your reader feels when you constantly point the finger at “you.”

Be respectful of others. Don’t use other people for all of your bad examples. If at all possible, find something from your own life to use as the example of someone doing something the wrong way. This makes you human to the reader and saves the reputation of others. If you must use another as your example, do so discreetly and with anonymity.

Don’t write when you’re emotional. Hurt, offense, anger, pain, embarrassment, discouragement, and PMS lend themselves to preachy writing. When you’re emotional, write in your journal, not for the public.

Write unto others as you would have them write unto you. Do you like to read preachy, dogmatic writing? Neither does your reader. Write in the style that you would most like to read.

Your reader may not always agree with you. In fact, if you write about controversial matters, you are sure to ruffle some feathers. But even in those instances, you can write in a tone that is humble, not preachy. And even your enemies will respect you for that.



Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post, Bonita. I find too often that my writing is preachy. At least I feel preachy when I want to write and so I do not write so as not to offend. This post gives good guidelines to check one's attitude.

Bethany from Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom said...

Ouch! This is true, but hard to do sometimes. In fact, I've had people point it out to me! I love your last point :-).

Anonymous said...

This is great! I know I can come across as bossy and a know-it-all if I don't work on it. :) I have to share this with others!

Richella said...

Eeek! What good advice, Bonita--and very much needed! I don't like to read things that are preachy, so I need to be asking myself if my writing is preachy! Oh, gosh. . . it's so tempting sometimes to want to correct things. You know, since I'm so omniscient and all, of course I know just what needs to be corrected and just how to correct it. NOT.

Now, a question for you. Do you think my "English teacher" series of posts is preachy? I want to be the kind of teacher you describe here, but I don't know if that's how I'm coming across. You've given me a lot to think about!

The Director said...

Thanks Bonita! My current WIP takes place in Medieval England, and my MC travels part-time with a monk. He also ends up getting saved near the end of the book (big surprise!) but I've been struggling to make the character's be not-preachy.
Even though I have a feeling this post was directed more at non-fiction writing, it still helped me out.


I blogged about this post, too ;)


Miss Sandy said...


What a great post addressing a sensitive subject, that of prideful writing. I think advice is especially applicable when tackling devotional writing and I confess looking back over some of mine and cringing. Thank you for the valuable check list.

Linda said...

Great advice Bonita. I think I'll delete my last blog post :)

vintageculler said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and like what I have seen so far. I love the topics I see in your former posts and am ready to dive in and read them all! Thank you! Cindy

Kathryn Lang said...

I say write when you ARE emotional - and let the words flow freely. EDIT after you calm down.

Also, when you are dealing with a touchy subject put the issue on you. "I struggle with eating the cake when I am not hungry" and let the reader relate to that struggle.

IMO ;)

Great post - will be passing it on to the readers of my newsletter.