Saturday, December 29, 2012

On Germinant Thoughts and Outlines

The Growing of Sermons is in principle not different from the growing of poetry—at least if you believe the Methodist Review of September 1907 (vol. 89). You need "the right sort of seed," cultivated the right way. These seeds consist of "truth which he gathers and pigeon-holes away in his brain" so that it "actually becomes a part of himself, so that when it springs forth at some future time it is a flower bearing the fragrance of life" (p. 728). In order that this may happen:
Have upon your study table, always accessible, a good-sized substantially bound blank book. whenever a germinant thought comes seize your pen and write it down. Such thoughts will come out of your special course of literary reading, out of your cursory scanning of current fiction, even out of the five-minute glance given to the morning paper, out of nowhere and from manywhere (p. 728).
Such "thought-compelling suggestions" may be foreign to the sermon a minister may write, but they may serve as inspiration nevertheless.

This is not the end of the advice:
Have also a special vest-pocket notebook and let nothing escape you. Besides your notebooks have a generous file of long narrow cards. Place on the end of the card in plain letters the name of any subject on which you find any thought worth recurring to in any book you read. Jot down the name or the initial of the volume, together with the page; and if the book is your own, mark the line or paragraph. Gradually your cards will get heads, and you can arrange them so that all the heads can be seen at a glance. You can pick out any subject you desire, either for adding new memoranda or finding something needed on that particular theme. Everywhere, and all the time, gather and store up material (pp. 728f.)
The mere collection of the material will enrich the mind and give "increased facility."

Scissors for clipping papers are also essential. To store these, one need no expensive cabinets: an arrangement "of large envelopes ... will meet every requirement."

When time comes to write the sermon, "proceed to make a rough draught of an outline" (p. 733). If you must write the last part of the sermon, before the first is 'perfectly sketched, by all means do so. "Be not bound by any hard-and-fast system of rules' for writing. "Be yourself. Work in your own harness. Avoid coming inot bondage to any one method of working," but don't be different from anybody else "for the sake of singularity" either (p. 734).

Talk about non-linear writing and note-taking! The advice is just as valid as it was a hundred years ago, even though "good-sized substantially bound blank" books and "special vest-pocket books" may no longer be so necessary and electronic equivalents may have taken their place. But let's remember that they are equivalents and not something radically new. They bring new affordances, but they are also "more of the same."

No comments: