Each young writer is published monthly in Christian Today. Immediately following Christina Tyson's talk, it was then Christina's pleasure to re-present the 2013 Basil Sellers New Zealand Young Writer Awards.
Christian Tyson's address
One of my favourite writers, Frederick Buechner, writes: 'Coming home from church one snowy day, Emerson wrote, "The snow was real but the preacher spectral." In other words nothing he heard from the pulpit suggested that the preacher was a human being more or less like everybody else with the same dark secrets and high hopes, the same doubts and passions, the same weaknesses and strengths.
Undoubtedly he preached on matters like sin and salvation, but without ever alluding to the wretched, lost moments or the glad, liberating moments of his own life or anybody else's.'
One thing that has thrilled me as a marker (Panellist) has been seeing how willing you all are to share both your 'wretched, lost moments' and your 'glad, liberating moments'. I want to thank you for your honesty as you've reflected on, and sometimes clearly wrestled with the stuff of your lives.
Christina Tyson over lunch with NZ young writers
Thank you, too, for your willingness to engage with – and also wrestle with – Scripture, church history, theology, science, comparative religion, current events and, perhaps most problematic of all, church as we know it. Embarrassing warts and all.
Thank you for being willing to sit with your writing before sending it off for publishing to Christian Today. I'm seeing increasing evidence of more writing that shows signs of closer revision – to great effect.
Drafting an article is a creative process, and once we get past the initial hundred ideas and options or (sometimes more commonly), not one idea at all, just a blank page or screen and a nagging deadline, we come to the more thoughtful and critical aspect of writing: revision.
Christina Tyson with fellow NZ Panellist Liz Hay
The New Oxford Guide to Writing says, 'As a writer of a draft you must keep going and not get hung up on small problems. As a writer you change hats, becoming a demanding reader who expects perfection. When you write you see your words from inside; you know what you want to say and easily overlook lapses of clarity puzzling to readers. When you revise you put yourself in the reader's place. Of course you cannot get completely outside your own mind, but you can think about what readers know and do not know, what they believe and consider important. You can ask yourself if what is clear to you will be equally clear to them.'
Perhaps I'm nagging, but as a writer for probably 25 years, and an editor for almost 13, I would say that self-revision is one of the most important skills I look for in a writer.
Equally important, though, are a sense of creative vision, the ability to scope a piece, planning well and then delivering on that plan (especially important in a commissioned piece), meeting a word count if one's been set, not being 'precious' about your work (we all have to be edited!), and an ability to find fresh and intriguing ways into a topic – even one that's been tackled so often to become clichÃ©d.
Country singer Harlan Howard said: 'Country music is three chords and truth.' More recently, U2 echoed this (with the line 'All I need is a red guitar, three chords and the truth) in their cover of Bob Dylan's 'All Along the Watchtower' (which was earlier covered by Jimmi Hendrix) and, incidentally, echoes lines from Isaiah 21 verses 5-9.
In writing, just as in music, there aren't endless new options open to us. Not really. Sometimes it really is just a case of three chords and the truth. So, well done on your own improvisations. And while it sounds corny, I pray that you'll keep letting the truth sing through your words.
Re-presenting New Zealand 2013 Basil Sellers Young Writer Awards:
Art 'table top' works by Tronson du Coudray
Sophia Sinclair with husband Andrew and baby Guy Douglas
Sophia Sinclair (Christchurch) – You always cover a lot of ground but without any distracting elements. You have a particular skill for writing great topical intros. And always with excellent grammar! Your journalism background is clear and it results in very clear and focused communication.
Daniel Jang and Christina Tyson
Daniel Jang (Wellington) – you have a real teaching gift, which comes through very clearly in your writing. It's always well researched, extremely well structured and, naturally, well written. Your writing always gives me something new to think about.
Casey Murray with Christian Tyson and artist Tronson du Coudray
Casey Murray (Auckland) – I like that you're prepared to take risks in her writing – to put herself out there. Your work is bold and sometimes quirky, which makes it very shareable online (and I have shared it). I especially admire your honesty and self-reflection.
Sam Burrows with Christina Tyson
Sam Burrows (Auckland) – I really enjoy your appropriately cynical and always very well argued take on church life. One of the things I enjoy about your writing is that you stick to one main point and don't get lost in tangents. This results in writing that is tightly focused – and ideal for an online audience. A real strength is your weaving in of cultural connections to New Zealand culture. And your intriguing intros.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html