If a Book Falls in a Forest . . .

Attention Span

Sometimes I wonder about the futures of those of us who are called to write.

I’ve been writing long enough to remember back when the explosion of niche-y magazine options on the newsstand prompted concerns about shrinking reader attention spans. The thought was that we were creating a generation of people who couldn’t be bothered to read anything longer than the typical magazine article.

There was a funny bit of dialogue in the classic ’80s movie, The Big Chill. The character played by Jeff Goldblum is a frustrated novelist whose current paying gig is writing for People magazine.

“So how about you, Michael? Tell us about big-time journalism.”

“Where I work we have only one editorial rule: you can’t write anything longer than the average person can read during the average crap. I’m tired of having all my work read in the can.”

“People read Dostoevsky in the can.”

“Yes, but they can’t finish it.”

Indeed, shorter books (and shorter chapters within longer books) quickly became the accepted convention in the battle to keep people reading.

Then the internet came along and the modern attention span’s jackhammering into ever-tinier bits began in earnest. The length of the typical blog post made magazine articles seem impossibly long.

Then familiarity with Twitter’s 140 character limit made most blog posts seem too demanding of our limited time. Now Instagram captions are making 140 characters feel like a long reading commitment. In recent months most people’s Facebook timelines have become mostly pictures, links to videos, and one-line aphoristic slogans.

Today most magazines are filled with pictures, not words. There are a few exceptions of course—publications aimed directly at the few remaining true readers.

For years I’ve received a quarterly publication called the Claremont Review of Books. Here’s a typical spread:

CRoB Spread

On more than one occasion I’ve been observed reading this publication in public and been asked by a fascinated stranger, “Where are the pictures?” Or heard, “Wow! So many words.”

Please understand, I’m not being snobby or elitist here. I understand. I feel the pull. I feel the itch in my brain whenever I’m asked to focus on one chunk of text for more than a minute or two. It’s happening to all of us. I have a home office filled with books I’ve ordered in the last year or so that I haven’t cracked open yet.

I teach that for most things in life–especially spiritual things—scarcity is an illusion. But the one thing that is truly scarce is attention. We have entered what has come to be called “the attention economy” and it is fundamentally defined by “attention scarcity.”

Did you make it all the way to the end of this blog post? Congratulations! And thank you!

You see, the thing that haunts the writer’s soul and stalks the quieter moments is the prospect that one has poured important truths in artful ways onto pages that no one will ever read.

If a book falls in a forest and no one ever reads it, did it ever really exist?

A Few More Thoughts for Aspiring Writers

IMG_0097As a follow up to my previous post, here are a few more thoughts about writing well, followed by some links leading to additional food for thought.

1. Never sacrifice clarity on the altar of creativity.

When you’re writing for an audience—when you self-consciously care about what the reader thinks about what you’re writing—it’s tempting to strive for innovative, flashy ways of getting your message across. But your message can easily get lost in the effort to be fancy.

A couple of years ago I tweeted this advice after a session of editing a young writer’s work:

Writers. Thou shalt not be confusing in the quest to be clever.

Writing that doesn’t effectively transmit your ideas or information—no matter how colorful—is not good writing. In the oft-cited words of the prison warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

2. Keep sentences short (for the most part.)

Whenever I’m editing the writing of novice writers, much of my time is spent blasting crazy-long sentences into smaller chunks.

Why break up a long, compound, complex sentence into smaller, easily digestible bits when you can string everything you want to say into a long chain of clauses and phrases; because readers never get mentally weary or need you to get to the point—they being able to absorb an infinite amount of detail and keep it all straight, and all?

Because smaller bites are more easily digested. And despite what your 9th grade English teacher told you, it’s okay to start sentences with a conjunction. (That last one did.)

3. Shun clichés.

Cliches are sets of words that are so routinely jammed together in conversation that you can finish the phrase without it actually being spoken:

  • Read my lips . . . The bottom line is, at the end of the day, if you want to go whole hog on writing as good as gold, then you’ll want to avoid clichés like the plague.
  • It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know you’d give an arm and a leg to be back in the saddle.
  • Be a babe in the woods where you let sleeping dogs lie.
  • Go back to square one like a kid in a candy store.
  • Go back to the drawing board and take the bull by the horns and burn the candle at both ends when you’re down in the dumps.
  • For all intents and purposes the jury is still out on whether you’re bigger than life or blind as a bat.

That’s all for now.

Some Links

Be a better writer in 15 minutes: 4 TED-Ed lessons on grammar and word choice

23 Websites that Make Your Writing Stronger (fiction-centric)

On the First Signs of Spring

Holland Camellia

Spring arrives relatively early here in northern Texas—several weeks earlier that what I experienced growing up in Oklahoma. And about 12-to-14 weeks earlier than when we lived in Minneapolis.

Technically the first signs of Spring’s impending arrival here are . . . weeds. In fact, I’ve been in engaged in a pitched battle against dandelion and henbit for several weeks now and believe I’m getting the upper hand. And last weekend I launched a fierce preemptive strike against crabgrass and dallis grass—having lost nearly half of one side of my front lawn to the unholy invaders last summer.

The price of liberty and weedless lawns is eternal vigilence.

By the way, did you know that the dandelion plant was introduced to North America by the first European colonists . . . as a food source. It’s true. You can prepare and eat dandelion leaves as you would collard greens or “poke salad.” Tuck that away in your memory in the event there’s a complete breakdown of social order and we find ourselves in some sort of post-apocolyptic crisis. You can survive on dandelions in a pinch.

While enjoying Valentine’s Day coffee with Mrs. Blather on the patio this glorious morning (we’re expecting sunshine and 78 today), we noticed the two blossoms pictured above on one of our two Camellia trees. Many more will follow over the next few weeks. And then they’ll be done for the year–first in, first out.

The azaleas are up next, along with the Redbud and ornamental Cherry we planted a year ago last winter. Then the dianthus, the other perennials, and finally the roses.

Summer’s heat will arrive soon enough and refuse to leave until October. Until then, we’ll savor the first splashes of color. And offer up genuine thanks for the little pleasures we find here on Pine Thicket Lane.


On the President at the National Prayer Breakfast

As we have seen many times, there is no moment so grave that our current president will not to use it to get up on his high horse, take a shot at Western civilization, and emphasize his own moral superiority.

That’s the opening line of David Galernter’s important and devastating piece posted over at National Review Online.  I encourage you to read the whole thing. 

On a Family Regathered for Christmas












The reigning King of Christmas looks anything but joyful here. I’m not sure why, really. I think I was just very focused on framing the selife “just so” in order to get the background festivities in the shot. Those festivities — a sumptuous Christmas Eve-Eve feast prepared by my amazing bride — included “Christmas crackers,” the British holiday tradition that invariably contains a riddle or joke, a prize and a paper crown. (Thus the headgear.)

The fact is, the last couple of weeks have indeed been filled with joy. And life. And good friends. And laughter around tables heaped with delicious foods encircled by all my favorite faces. All of them.

Christmas Girls


That’s no small thing when two of your favorite faces reside half a world away. It has been roughly a year since I had seen the Aussie Lassies. And we said goodbye to one of them a couple of days ago with the knowledge that it would probably be another year before we’d see her again.

In another week or so it will be just me and the Mrs. once again. And that’s just fine. We’re good together—and much living remains to be done.

But even the happiest empty nest needs to be refilled from time to time.





On the Reign of the King


My previous post made the case that Jesus was born to be a king. Of course, there is nothing controversial about that assertion. Jesus’ kingly-ness is affirmed and taught in every corner of Christendom. However . . .

. . . within the Protestant world, there are two very different understandings about when that king’s reign begins in earnest.

Much of the Evangelical world views “the kingdom”—i.e., Jesus’ rule on earth—as primarily a future prospect. The position held (in varying forms) is that, although Jesus is currently recognized and honored as “King” throughout heaven, His kingdom will not be present and active on earth until He physically returns. Upon returning, Jesus basically kicks tail; takes names; sets everything in order; and sets up His throne in Jerusalem from whence He reigns for precisely 1,000 years.

There is another view. This one views Jesus’ reign as rightful, ruling King of Earth (as well as Heaven) as beginning when he “sat down at the right hand of the Father” (Mark 16:19). In other words, the rule of King Jesus is primarily a present prospect.

Which view does the witness of Scripture support? And what difference does it make which view one holds?

I’ll be addressing these questions in a series of blog posts to come. (An exciting promise, I know. Try to contain yourself.)



On the Birth of a King

crownThe scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
the one whom all nations will honor.
Genesis 49:10 (NLT)

Jacob, the patriarch, is dying. His twelve sons have gathered around his bed to hear from their father one last time.

In his final hours a powerful spirit of prophecy settles upon the 147-year-old grandson of Abraham. Beginning with the eldest, Jacob prophesies in turn over each of his sons. When he reaches his fourth-born, Judah, he concludes his prophecy with the lines from Genesis 49 cited above.

The “scepter” and “ruler’s staff” speak of kingship. The implication is that all the legitimate Israelite kings would hail from Judah’s descendants, a.k.a., the tribe of Judah, “until . . .”

Until the coming of “the one to whom it belongs.”

A thousand years later a similar spirt of prophecy falls upon one of Judah’s descendants. Gifted with special vision, Isaiah looks down through seven more centuries of history and sees the coming of that “one whom all nations will honor.” He writes:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:10,11 (NASB)

 These words foretell the arrival of more than a mere messiah. More than a military genius who will deliver the oppressed from their oppressors. More than a temporal leader with a finite, albeit wonderful, term of administration.

No, Isaiah sees a king.

The “government” rests upon his broad, strong shoulders. He sits “on the throne of David” and rules “over his kingdom.” But there are two distinct and unique aspects to this king’s rule.

The first is that this king’s reign is eternal. “From then on and forevermore . . .” the prophet reveals.

The second is that this kingdom never stops expanding. Ever. The borders of His domain are forever and always moving outward. New territory is constantly being brought under His rule of peace. And this expansion continues for eternity.

Seven hundred years later, the imminent arrival of that extraordinary king was announced by an archangel to the woman who would carry Him for nine months. The words of the messenger are a direct and unambiguous reference to Isaiah’s prophecy:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.
He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.
And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Luke 2:31-33 (NLT)

 Within the first two years of His birth, sky watchers from Mesopotamia will arrive seeking the recently born “King of the Jews.” They had seen the signs indicating His royal birth in the stars.

Jesus—this one who was foretold, foreseen and ultimately born—is many things. He is a Savior; a kinsman Redeemer; a Deliverer; an Elder Brother; a once-and-for-all Sacrifice; a High Priest and Intermediary. Yes, He is all these things.

But we do well to remember. He is, and ever will be, a King.

. . . He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named,
not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet,
and gave Him as head over all things to the church,
which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 1:20-23 (NASB)

Joseph G. Rainsford (1861) on “The Faithfulness of God”

Comments Off on Joseph G. Rainsford (1861) on “The Faithfulness of God”

“God, from the beginning, has dealt with His people in the way of promise. Hence they are called “Heirs of Promise” (Heb. 6:12) God’s promises are sure and suitable. They are built upon four pillars:

1. God holiness, which will not allow Him to deceive.

2. God’s goodness, which will not allow Him to forget.

3. God’s truth, which will not allow Him to change.

4. God’s power, which will not allow Him to fail.”