I enjoy writing. I don't so much enjoy coming up with content, which tends to be a bit daunting. In the interest of consideration and to avoid harmful misunderstandings, I've found it necessary to steer away from the sterner shoals of controversy - at least for now. Perhaps in the future I will be able to create a format where these questions can be considered with clarity and charity - two qualities that are in short supply in the impersonal context of internet discussion.
The practical effect of all this has been to make my blog mostly about books (what other people think) or about inspiration (what everybody thinks), with a little poetry and narrative mixed in. Some of my sharper edges I deliberately smooth over, not in an effort to be someone different than I am, but simply in response to the unpredictable trajectory that rash, unqualified statements tend to take, particularly in the online world.
As an aspiring and by no means accomplished writer, something I have noticed - with dismay - is that I will often say something because I think it has a particularly nice ring to it, instead of simply saying what I mean to say. When one reads great authors such as Lewis, or Chesterton, you get the sense that they are writing with confident stride, with their whole vast vocabulary open before them and infusing their work with breathless precision. They are not mired in diction or weighted with worry about form or style: they are merely and gloriously themselves.
Take, for example, this line from my review of The Man Who Was Thursday (below): "It is something of an emancipation to concede that reality is absurd." Now, do I really believe that reality is absurd? In truth, I'm not at all sure. It just seemed the right thing to say, and I thought the sentence sounded wonderfully fine. But this is the sort of thing that makes for bad writing. As Samuel Johnson said, "Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." Ouch! On its face, this sounds like literary suicide. Notice, however, how it is the flowery and profuse sentences which return to haunt and embarrass you, and never the crisp and frugal.
Straight writing does not mean dead writing. Language without metaphors is like a bird without wings. The best metaphors come spontaneously - intuitively - like that one just did, about the bird. (Sometimes, of course, they must be labored over and hammered out until they correctly personify the point, but such attention should not generally be necessary. There is a wide difference between applying yourself to your work and agonizing over it. The sage of Ecclesiastes exhorts us to do our work "heartily", not necessarily to do it with wooden perfection. Writing - or any other task - should have all the fluidity and freedom of a good pianist: working very hard, to be sure, but also very much in harmony with the music and the moment. If the sweat glistens, you're doing it right; if it beads, you're doing it wrong.)
We are inclined to think of metaphor as the icing on the cake, instead of the flour and milk and eggs inside. This is not the true case, as C. S. Lewis points out: "It is a serious mistake to think that metaphor is an optional thing which poets and orators may put into their work as a decoration and plain speakers can do without. The truth is that if we are going to talk at all about things which are not perceived by the sense, we are forced to use language metaphorically. Books on psychology or economics or politics are as continuously metaphorical as books of poetry or devotion. There is no other way of talking, as every philologist is aware... All speech about supersensibilites is, and must be, metaphorical in the highest degree." - C. S. Lewis, Miracles, HarperSanFrancisco, 114-115
I take some small comfort in observing that, if the pen is truly mightier than the sword, it must also be a bit harder to master.