Jacob Aitken's Reviews > Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life

Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson
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's review
Feb 11, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: education, worldview, the-western-canon, federal-vision-goofiness

I am evaluating Wilson on professional respect, and I am trying to keep my antipathy of his theology, polemics, and ecclesiology to a minimum. Wilson has triumphed in an area where most people have failed--writing. Therefore, if he writes a book on how to write well, and how to live the writer's life, then he deserves to be listened to.

The book is interestingly arranged. He writes an introduction and then divides that introduction to intersperse throughout the chapters. At the end of each section he gives a short bibliography that supposedly expands the points he made.

Some gems:
1. Keep a writer's notebook full of phrases you would like to use later. In this he probably echoes numerous other writers.

2. Collect different types of books, particularly mechanical helps. I have been a grammar teacher for several years now (yes, I deliberately ended a sentence with a preposition earlier; let the reader understand) and studying the gears of grammar does help.

3. Learn classical languages. I don't share his commitment to the classical model, but he is right *to an extent.* I learned Greek in college and I taught myself Latin, and it does make a difference. Admittedly, though, this chapter was simply an advertisement for his own program.

4. Practice poetry. In other words, practice writing the hard stuff that one is not normally inclined to write. If nothing else, this makes one smarter.

5. He says to have "20 books going at one time" (Wilson, 31). I'm not so sure. Some books are the kind that demand to absorb you, and if you have 20 going you will likely miss out on that experience. C. S. Lewis at one point advocated having no more than a handful going. In any case, as I look at my shelf I see 15-20 I am reading.


a. Wilson lets his own particular antagonism to his current opponent get the best of him at times. On a few occasions it is funny, but for the most part it distracts the reader. Yes, one should make fun of the hippies ala Stuff White People Like, but disagreeing with Wilson on economics and politics does not make one a postmodernist hippie.

b. While the bibliographic information in some sections is helpful, a lot of times it is not. I cannot fathom for the life of me why an aspiring writer, needing to work on the mechanics, should ever read the "scapegoat atonement theory of Christology" by Rene Girard. Honestly?

c. Sometimes the book alternates between a desperate plea that "Yes, Protestants, too, can be good writers. Look at C. S. Lewis" and a backhanded slap at anyone who doesn't share his own aesthetic theory.


I am sharply critical of this book at points, but I will give credit where credit is due (or since Wilson is Reformed, "non-credit," since merit theology is mostly bad). He is a good writer, of that no one can doubt. He has done us a favor giving us his insights into writing. For that we are grateful. However, there are a few annoying qualities that appear repeatedly throughout the book, and they keep the book from getting five stars.

Criticisms aside, I will likely practice his teachings today.
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Reading Progress

February 11, 2012 – Started Reading
February 11, 2012 – Shelved
February 11, 2012 –
page 76
63.33% "I really don't like Wilson, but I have to give professional respect: he's triumphed in an area where most people have failed--writing. He gives his insights in this book. Much of the book is quite good and dovetails with what other writers have said (Gary North, anyone?)."
February 11, 2012 – Shelved as: education
February 11, 2012 – Shelved as: worldview
February 11, 2012 – Shelved as: the-western-canon
February 11, 2012 – Shelved as: federal-vision-goofiness
February 11, 2012 – Finished Reading

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