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We begin to make promises to others by having “a domain of our own”: It is a first step toward “standing by our words” in the digital realm. As [Wendell] Berry says, “We are speaking where we stand, and we shall stand afterwards in the presence of what we have said.” By taking back the responsibility of our words from the Headmasters, by ceasing to live on their bounty, we step away from the “merely provisional” uses of language and toward genuine accountability. We thereby make a small promise to the future, and take a step toward giving those who come after us cleaner earth to till. We may also wish them good weather — but that, too, largely depends on the promises we make, and our fidelity in keeping them.

Alan Jacobs, “Tending the Digital Commons: A Small Ethics toward the Future,” The Hedgehog Review (Spring 2018)

Via Matt Miller.

Here’s my summary of what John Piper said in this podcast: Steward the gift of introversion. Be a Bible translator or a writer to benefit others.

John Piper, “How Do Introverts Guard Against Selfishness?” Ask Pastor John (Dec 3, 2018)

The great difficulty is to make what you have to say as simple as possible but no simpler — which means that you often have to work very hard to express certain ideas in ways that are accessible but non-reductive. … when you’re writing for a general audience who does not know the language of your guild, you have to understand those concepts well enough to translate them into a more accessible idiom.

Alan Jacobs, “Writing well ≠ dumbing down” (Oct 26, 2018)

I have seen this ability in a few teachers and writers, and consider it a hallmark of a spiritual gift.

Besides nine that are positive, Frame tries to avoid three criteria that are inadequate reasons to critique theological writing:

  1. Emphasis
  2. Comparability
  3. Terminology

I must still be young because these three don’t seem like criteria to avoid. If Frame means that these three criteria are not worth critiquing because they are not problems, but symptoms of problems, then it does seem like wise advice.

It’s worth the effort to understand writing with which I disagree. Improper emphasis, comparability to other works that are poor, and unbiblical terminology are not the heart of the matter. They can be warning flags as well as an opportunity to learn the meaning behind another person’s expressions.

Justin Taylor, “John Frame’s 9-Point Checklist for Evaluating Theological Writings” (Oct 11, 2018)

I enjoyed reading Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase with the children. It had just the right touches of wit, adventure, trepidation, and justice. The article talks about her writing style as well as the time her family made home in a bus.

Brian Phillips, “The Practical Magic of Joan Aiken, the Greatest Children’s Writer You’ve Likely Never Read,” The New Yorker (Aug 31, 2018)

What Matters for Note-taking Is Interpretation, Not Information /

Christian Tietze used to gather complete source information when he studied, out of fear that he didn’t understand the author’s intent. He assumed that keeping the author’s words was more important than having his own. In time, his way of studying didn’t work. He had to revisit sources to rethink about them.

I’ve also fallen for this “collector’s fallacy.” I’ve spent a lot of time preserving clippings of significant articles and then having to reread them later for information, if I ever returned to them.

Tietze overanalyzes the problem, however, and makes a misguided foray into hermeneutics. In his article “Stop Relying on a Source and Have Faith in Your Own Thoughts,” he concludes that it’s not possible to understand the author’s intent, that texts have no information and are worthless. What matters, he says, is the information you create from interacting with a source. If Tietze were right in this regard, what would be the point of studying others and writing to build up others? Such a hermeneutic undermines our efforts to grow up and dismantle our self-centered views of the world. I don’t have faith in my own thoughts, which is why I study. Even he doesn’t agree with himself at this point. See his article “The Collector’s Fallacy” where he acknowledges that source texts do have information that matters and studying will, “integrate the text’s information into our own knowledge.” This second article comes closer to my experience: collecting materials gives a feeling of accomplishment, but it’s a form of procrastination.

I can see how Tietze’s thinking provides motivation to stop collecting other people’s words and start writing his own. Although I disagreed with his reasoning in the middle, I shared his problem and solution:

I stopped collecting because it didn’t produce the results I wanted. Instead, I increasingly shifted my focus to writing notes in my own voice, to keep my interpretations of texts in a condensed form, and to have them available at all times instead of making the texts themselves easy to find. This produces far better results, because a note you wrote yourself is tailored to your own patterns of thought, making it easier to work with it in the future. Your own notes require less energy when you read and make sense of them than re-visiting the original source would.

I agree with his idea that we collect our own words and ideas to provide clarity to ourselves later (not to mention another significant outcome: to avoid plagiarism). For the sake of learning, what matters more is not a copy of the information studied, but our summary of it. Not all of my notes are clear to my future self, but with a quick look at the source I recall what I was getting at. Of course, being faithful to the author’s intent matters: even Tietze keeps a reference to the source with his notes.

Preserving source information in place of note-taking is not helpful for learning. My own notes are a record of my engagement. They not only convey the meaning of the information, but also its significance.

Alan Jacobs, “the blog garden” (Jul 12, 2018)

In “What Augustine Requests from His Readers”:

Yet, for my part, I meditate in the law of the Lord, if not day and night, at least such short times as I can; and I commit my meditations to writing, lest they should escape me through forgetfulness; hoping by the mercy of God that He will make me hold steadfastly all truths of which I feel certain; but if in anything I be otherwise minded, that He will himself reveal even this to me, whether through secret inspiration and admonition, or through His own plain utterances, or through the reasonings of my brethren. This I pray for, and this my trust and desire I commit to Him, who is sufficiently able to keep those things which He has given me, and to render those which He has promised.

Augustine, On the Trinity, 1.5, via Justin Taylor.

Austin Kleon, “A few notes on daily blogging” (Nov 19, 2017)

  • Excellent writing is technically proficient, at the sentence level and at larger organizational levels.
  • Excellent writing gives the reader something he couldn’t have gotten for himself.

I am fully convinced that if you will simply pay attention to the world as it presents itself to you and write what you have seen, you can hardly help but give your reader ideas and images he has never considered before. … originality will take care of itself.

Jonathan Rogers, “On Not Being the Smartest Person in the Room,” The Rabbit Room (Jun 6, 2018)