Aug 6, 2010

The Red Pen and Purposeful Writing by Johnathan Williams

I remember the first round of edits of my first novel. Painful.

I had finished the first draft just months before, entrusting the initial edits to my dad, a brilliant and unremitting editor. Many more edits would follow once my publisher and his team had their hands on the book, but I remember that first round most vividly. I sat across the table from my dad as he slid the rough manuscript of Jungle Sunrise back to the author.

It looked like a 2-year-old’s coloring book; the pages violently besieged by the ever-obtrusive red pen. Oh, the red pen. Some authors hate it. Some love it. Others fear it. As for me, well, I guess I was just surprised by it. I was surprised by the amount of changes that I agreed needed to be made to my book.

By the time we were finished, Jungle Sunrise had been rearranged, transformed, improved, and molded into the story it was originally meant to be. It was like driving an old truck through the car wash and flying a jet out the other end.

Most people, when they think of the dreaded red pen and editing, imagine a tedious task of correcting misspelled words and coma splices. This is not the case. The red pen allows the author to reexamine the drive of the characters, the believability of the dialogue, and even the purpose of the story. These big picture aspects of writing are what make editing such an invaluable part of the process.

Too often, books are written and even published with but a thin trace of purpose. With more than 100,000 books published each year and the average reader making it through only 8 books a year, an author must use the red pen time and time again to make sure that they communicate the purpose of the book in the most inspiring, intriguing, and creative way possible.

You only get one chance to capture the heart of a reader.

Whether the aim is to make someone laugh, teach a set of truths, enthrall with adventure, or move with emotion, writers must invest the time in writing, editing, rewriting, editing again, and going through more than a few red pens so that the book set on the shelves is, not perfect, but, ready. It is ready to engage new readers, ready to paint the right picture, and stir imaginations without the hiccups that didn’t survive the initial edits.


Jonathan Williams served as a missionary with the International Mission Board’s Xtreme Team in the jungles of Peru for two years. It was there, lying under a mosquito net in a hut in the middle of the Amazon Jungle, that Williams began to write his first novel, Jungle Sunrise.

Williams, 30, writes and lives in North Texas with his beautiful wife, Jessica, where he pastors Body Life church and serves as the Campus Pastor for Trinity Christian Academy as he pursues a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His passion and desire is to inspire readers with creativity and truth.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for hosting Jonathan Williams today. This is a great article. I hope your readers enjoy it.