Andrew Le Peau is surely qualified to write a book on writing better: he has been an editor at IVP for forty years. But I hope I’m qualified to say that (most of) the book, though fine, didn’t scratch where I personally itch. His advice for the first two thirds of the book is fairly standard, his examples as well. If you’ve never read such a book, Le Peau will serve you well. If you need to hear, “Reading widely and learning from experienced, educated authorities can be invaluable,” Le Peau will tell you. If you need to hear, “The advantage[s] of presenting the strongest case against our viewpoint,” Le Peau will tell you. If you need to take time to define your audience, he will tell you to do it. If you need to be told to rewrite, same. If you need to be told that the “rules” of grammar don’t come from heaven but are instead human tools, check. If you need to be told that a good title is essential to your books success, ditto. (I’m being a little hard on him: the titling section was useful: he did a good job breaking down common contemporary titling practice.)
I nearly gave up on this book during those first two sections, because—what am I supposed to say?—I kind of already knew what he was going to say. I’m a writer and an editor, jobs I’ve been doing for my entire adult life. I guess I should be relieved that I received no revelations.
Why I’m glad I didn’t give up
But I’m glad I didn’t give up on Writing Better, because the third section, spiritual meta-reflections on the writing life, were full of genuine wisdom for me. Le Peau actually really nailed me: I had a little success with my “first” book, and dealing with the paralysis that comes from praise has been a noticeable internal challenge. My book, to my total and grateful shock, got endorsements from major heroes of mine. It was like LeBron James praising the basketball skills of the second-string point guard at Claremont Elementary. I have many times felt like quitting while I’m ahead. Why stick my neck out again when I have that nice bed of laurels over there to rest on? With my royalty checks, I can take my whole family out to Five Guys Burgers and Fries every six months. Now, where’s a horse and a sunset?
Le Peau had the right advice for me, and though I “already knew” this, too, I still needed to hear it and found it truly edifying. He told me that if I love my neighbor and love the truth and am humble before the God who gave me whatever writing gifts and opportunities I have, then I will write again.
Le Peau also offered some simple, helpful advice for how to handle criticism. This was aproPeau (cue Jim Gaffigan’s high-pitched self-mockery voice: Why did he type that?):
Social media is generally not a good place to try to resolve criticism. Again, people are going to say what they are going to say. You had your say. Let them have theirs. If you have a personal relationship with someone who has said something especially problematic, handle it personally if possible, away from the often-distorting glare of the internet. (224)
Bam. Do that. I’m going to.
Le Peau also told me something I’ve never heard and never even thought of: make sure I have a literary executor named in my will. Just one, so my kids don’t have to make a difficult mutual decision over the book manuscript that facilitated so many family nights at Five Guys. I owe him for that wisdom.
He also gave a publisher’s view of the current state of book publishing, and a Christian view of how to build a platform without sinning against a Lord who told us not to take the seats of honor at feasts. Good stuff.
He also offered advice for how to remain tethered helpfully to authority, lest you discover that your fame or platform has pulled you away from sound doctrine. I hope I never need his wisdom, but I’m glad I have it.
Oh, and I liked this quote a lot: “Both fiction and nonfiction can speak truth—and both can lie” (3).
And so can book reviews. So I hope I’m telling you the truth: this is a good book that needs to find the readers for which it is meant. I was (⅓) and wasn’t (⅔) it.
Sometimes I’m a clinical reader, or I pretend to be one. Really, though, I’m an emotional reader. I have ups and downs with books. The first portions of the book were, yeah, kind of flat for me. I was at two stars—just for me personally (I still recommend the whole book for newbies). But the last portion of the book was full of wisdom and a truly Christian spirit. That section pulled me up to three stars, and not dwarf stars but like medium-sized ones.
New and aspiring Christian writers: pick this book up. Work by God’s grace to get to the point where its counsel feels old hat, because it offers wise, practical, Christian advice on how to Write Better.
Disclosure of material connection: I picked up this as a free review book because a friend who used to work at IVP was certain it would be good.