No, Readers Are Not Getting Dumber

“Oh, how sad! Look how they used to write in the 18th and 19th centuries, and then look at how feebleminded we sound today!”

I think most of us have experienced that kind of reaction after reading some elegant piece of writing from a romanticized age of literature. But are readers really getting dumber?

Whilst tis true that ofttimes, writers of bygone eras broadly partook of the pleasantries and convivial enjoyment which most assuredly accompanied the writing of highly ornamental prose, tis also true that such nostalgic musings about the implications of aforesaid leanings regarding the acumen and perspicacity of the common man as applied to language comprehension are more likely grounded in wistful and sentimental contemplations than in judicious and discriminative reflections on the true state of affairs which would have been observed by personages who enjoyed the prodigiously good fortune to have encountered and lived through such times.

In other words, people were not actually smarter back then. Most of the writing we still read from those eras was penned by intellectuals who valued the use of ornate language. That’s the primary reason for our misperception regarding reading comprehension levels of today versus those of bygone eras. In fact, the opposite is true. The average person’s reading comprehension is much higher today than it was back then.

Worldwide, only 12.05% of people were considered literate in the year 1800. In 2014, 85.3% of the world’s population was classified as literate.[i]

In the United States in 1870—which was when the U.S. Department of Education began tracking education statistics—less than 9,000 people in the U.S. had a college degree.[ii] The total population was 38.6 million and 35% of them were under the age of 17. That means less than .04% of the adult population had a college degree. Today, around 34% of those 25 or older have a college degree.[iii] In 1870, there were 7 million enrolled in primary schools while there were only 80,000 enrolled in secondary schools, implying that somewhere around 99% of the population was stopping their formal education after (what we would call) middle school. They only attended school for 132 days per year on average[iv], whereas today’s average is 180 days per year. Clearly, both developed world and underdeveloped world populations have gotten a lot more educated than they were back in the golden days of literature.

Okay, but of the people who could read back then, weren’t they smarter? Well, no. How you use words ultimately depends on your purpose. If people valued the ability to compose ornate writing today, they could certainly take the time to do it. It took me only a few minutes and a thesaurus to write my exaggerated sentence above. If I valued that sort of writing, I imagine I could produce it quickly and easily after a few months of practice. But what would be the point? Only a minute amount of people would be interested in reading such verbal gaudiness. (Yep, gaudiness is a word. I made sure.)

If writers enjoy ornate language and complex writing, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. There are other people with similar interests. We can find those people and enjoy ourselves together. But we shouldn’t expect the average person to latch onto our writing, dictionary in hand, growing in magniloquence as they passionately imbibe our musings.

It’s probably not going to happen.

Most people aren’t looking to build their vocabulary when they check out a blog or pick up a new book. So, it might be best to stick to writing in a way that most people will read, understand, and enjoy.

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[ii] Many of the statistics in this paragraph come from page 5 of the linked document.




Walking By Faith As A Christian Writer

After many days of rain and dreariness, I recently decided to take my god-nephew to a local park. This particular park has a Spacenet that leads to a 38-foot tube slide. When this structure was built, it was described as the tallest slide in the southeast region. However, height did not deter this brave and determined 6-year-old. He began to climb the pyramid-shaped Spacenet with confidence.

It wasn’t until he was almost at the top, nearly 38 feet in the air, that he looked down and told me he was afraid because his hands kept slipping. When I asked him if he wanted me to come get him, he paused and then said, “No! I’ve got this!” I continued to cheer him on and affirm that he did, in fact, have this. I genuinely admired his courage and tenacity to pursue something that seemed so much bigger than he is.

Our experience at the park reminded me of my journey as a Christian writer. God places ideas and dreams in our hearts, and it can be scary to pursue them when we don’t see how His plan will work out. Perhaps you don’t see the resources you need, you’re already super busy, or you don’t understand all of the details. We have to believe God is guiding the entire process and know that He is on our side! Even if you misstep somehow, He will be right there to catch you and place you where you need to be.

My god-nephew heard me cheering for him, but internally I was praying that God would protect him. I knew it meant a lot to him to accomplish his goal and I didn’t want my fear of him getting hurt to interfere with him reaching the top. Sometimes bystanders or even our loved ones will not understand what God has called us to do. Everyone will not understand the purpose God has chosen for you. At some point, you will experience such misunderstanding. And when you do, remember that it is God who called you, it is God you’re living for, and it is God who is supporting you and providing for you. You have been graced to be all He has created you to be, and this doesn’t warrant a second opinion.

Walking by faith requires action. If you’re experiencing hesitation in your journey as a writer, I urge you to pray for courage to walk with God and to not only take the first step, but to follow through until the end. There is a reason God gives you ideas and dreams; people need to read your writing! Don’t allow fear or worries to keep you stagnant, but instead embrace what God has placed before you and remember that He is with you every step of the way.

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The Season Of Waiting

Called To Write Dream Series Part 2: The Season of Waiting

By deBrandon Willis

After completing the test, I proceeded to a waiting area where I met up with my wife. It seemed to me my chances of getting the job were favorable due to the fact that I made it this far. It also seemed as if I was going through this testing process as a formality—as if everything was being initiated for a greater purpose. However, I was still concerned about the results.

After a while, the lady who had administered the test called us to the back. As we sat down, the lady began to talk and somehow, we got on the subject of her daughter. She told us that her daughter was on a plane, possibly a private jet, headed back home with a man that had been trying to force himself on her. This man, who I believe was responsible for her on this plane, was still being allowed to be around her. The daughter I believe was somewhere around fifteen years in age with long black hair; about 5’5”, 130 pounds.

As we continued to talk, my wife and I were somewhat confused. We wondered why she would let this happen. As the woman was explaining this, she seemed to be reluctant. She knew that this was foolishness.

The dream continued, and I believe we had finished talking with this woman or just moved on within the conversation. However, the dream transitioned before we heard the results.


Application Part 2

By Chris McKinney

After we go through a test, we won’t always get an immediate result. Sometimes, God calls us to step out in faith and do a hard thing. Then, it will seem like nothing happens for a while. The experience can often feel very anti-climactic. However, we know God hasn’t missed anything. Rather, He gives us a chance to listen to and help others while we wait. We are often asked to help people who don’t seem to want to help themselves. They may even do things that are destructive as we are trying to help them. It can feel for a time like our efforts are fruitless. This is actually another type of test—the kind that we don’t recognize as being a test.


What you’ve just read was the second part in a series. Please click here to see Part 1 of the Called To Write Dream Series

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Is Your Writing Clear?

Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace 12th Edition – An Online Book Study



Writing should be clear. The other option is for writing to be unclear.

The reason we want to be clear is that our writing is not for us. It does not exist to make us feel happy. It can bring us joy. But, the primary reason for our writing is to serve others. Our writing exists to entertain, inspire, help, teach, and encourage. We can offer guidance, wisdom, insight, and other valuable information. Writing can bring humor, joy, and light into people’s lives.

If our writing is confusing, we probably won’t accomplish any of those things. We may only give readers a headache. So, most of us can agree that we want our writing to be clear to the people we are serving.

The question is, how do we get there?

In my book, Calling All Writers! A Small Group Curriculum For Christian Writers, I make the case that simple is best. To be more precise, clear is best. I just happen to believe that using simple, direct statements is the easiest way to be clear. That’s especially true for writers who are thinking about the issue of clarity for the first time.

Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (12th Edition) appears to make the same case about simplicity. However, there are quite a few other principles we can employ to achieve greater clarity in our writing. These principles are outlined in the book. Style is widely considered to be a classic on the topic of clarity in writing.

So, by studying this book, I hope to achieve greater clarity on how to achieve greater clarity. I hope to help you do the same.

This post is meant to introduce the book and group study.

Please click here to join the Called Writers Facebook group, if you would like to study this book with us.

Here is my review of the first chapter.


Lesson One: Understanding Style

By the time I got to the second page of this book, I knew I had made an excellent reading choice.

The authors urge us to put readers above ourselves. Instead of writing what makes sense to us, we should strive to write what will make sense to others. Here is how the authors put it:

“None of us can judge our own writing as others will because when we read it, we respond less to the words on the page or screen than to the thoughts in our minds. We see what we thought we said…”[1]

The lesson one chapter argues that unclear writing is a widespread problem in English speaking societies. The authors claim that such writing pervades academic, scientific, legal, medical, and literary circles. The problem of vague and unnecessarily complicated writing is depicted as a plague on society. In one humorous quote about language meant to be confusing only to the uninitiated, a New York Times columnist argues that lawyers and judges are “discovering that sometimes they cannot even understand each other.”[2]

The authors make the case that there are several reasons for this undesirable social ill.

  • Writers are careless.
  • Writers are purposefully vague and unclear. This might be common in certain professions.
  • Writers are taught that good writing is complex and difficult to understand. This leads to a self-perpetuating cycle.
  • Writers are seeking to impress others. They believe that complicated sentences indicate deep thought.
  • Writers don’t understand their topic well enough. We tend to overcomplicate what we don’t understand.
  • Writers are trying too hard to follow grammar rules that the average person is not even aware of.

But, the main reason most of us produce unclear writing is:

We are under the delusion that our writing is already clear.

That’s my paraphrase. The authors actually state it this way, “we don’t know when readers will think we are unclear, much less why.”[3]

I want my writing to be clear so that it better serves my readers. That’s why I’m exploring and studying this book.

This is my first time reading the book, so you are getting a completely fresh perspective on its contents. I want your perspective too. Let’s learn together.

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[1] Williams, Joseph M. and Bizup, Joseph. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace Twelfth Edition. Pearson, 2017, p.3.

[2] Goldstein, Tom. “Lawyers Now Confuse Even the Same Aforementioned.” New York Times, 1 April 1977, p. 23.

[3] Williams, Joseph M. and Bizup, Joseph. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace Twelfth Edition. Pearson, 2017, p.7.

The Odds Are In Your Favor

Called To Write Dream Series Part 1: The Odds Are In Your Favor 

By deBrandon Willis

I arrived at a gated entrance to what looked to be an abandoned worksite. If not for my headlights, I wouldn’t have been able to see much at all. Upon exiting the vehicle, the gate slid open, and I walked through the entrance, into a courtyard surrounded by wooden cabins.

Photo by William Daigneault on Unsplash

I proceeded into a building which consisted of old fold-out tables, concrete floors, and fluorescent lighting. As I entered the building, I was led to a table on which sat a computer monitor. This computer looked to be from the early 90’s.

I had to take a test on this computer. This test would determine whether I would be hired for a particular job. The test didn’t last long. It consisted of maybe five multiple choice questions, some for which you could choose multiple answers. However, the questions were unreasonably timed, and the computer screen was cloudy. This made it almost impossible to choose the correct answer.


Application Part 1

By Chris McKinney

When we go through a season of testing, we will often experience confusion (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). We have an enemy that does not fight fair. Often, we will feel like the test is rigged for us to fail. But, while the enemy may play a part in the testing, he has no part in grading the test. Your Dad is the one grading the test. He’s looking at your heart, not your performance (Luke 22:60-62, John 21:15-17).


More to Come

What you’ve just read is the first part of a series. The series is based on a single dream deBrandon Willis had. When Chris McKinney read about the dream, he recognized a possible application for people who are moving into their calling.

We hope the Lord will use this “Called To Write Dream Series” to speak to individuals and Christian writing groups as you discover your purpose and journey toward your calling. Hopefully, you can recognize yourself or your group in one of the different phases and be encouraged that God is at work. It could also help you anticipate the types of challenges that may arise.

If you would like to get a weekly summary of our blog posts, email offers for free and discounted content, and other awesome stuff, please sign up for our email list here. We respect your privacy, and we typically will not send more than one or two emails per week.   

Team Colors

Beautiful beads, each color separate in its own tackle box, covered Genia’s dining room table. Excitedly she shared her collection with us, helping us find beads, charms, and pendants fitting the vision for our pieces.

In our ladies’ meetings at Genia’s home, we often make jewelry. I was excited because I wanted to make a pink bracelet this time to match my new pink sweater.

Abbie and her daughter, Mary Grace, were each consumed with making beautiful long necklaces with pendants. The rest of us were making bracelets.

I sought for the right pink beads for some time, finding none that worked. All around me, beautiful jewelry was being created, but I had made nothing. I usually made two bracelets each time, but my creativity was taking a siesta.

I saw myself respond differently than I would’ve in the past.

First, if it weren’t coming together, I would normally have put it aside until another time. Now, my group wouldn’t allow me to give up because they knew how much I wanted that bracelet. They know I tend to withdraw and feel hurt when I stand out as different in a group of people. They wanted me to feel a part of the fun and be happy about what I’d created. Thus, the encouragement began.

Second, I would normally get frustrated and take on an independent demeanor, becoming offended at people trying to help, wanting it to be all my idea.

Instead, the changes birthed in me through my writing small group this semester quickly became evident. I began to desire and ask for their input!

Cathy found pink rocks! They were so pretty and just the right shade! They were tiny, so Genia suggested a different cord for them. I found multi-colored beads that resembled the earth from space with their blue and green shades. I added some transparent pink crystal beads in between. Slowly it was coming together! Cathy found the perfect green bead. Karen suggested other beads and gave opinions on the ones I’d chosen. I would typically make it very matched and symmetrical, but Genia’s more free-form artistry influenced me. Ginger suggested one of the tiny crosses she had used on her bracelet, which looked so lovely with the beads she had chosen. I chose a pink one and was amazed to see a beautiful bracelet come together!

I realized some key things that night indicating a huge change in me.

Throughout the semester, I’ve been part of a writing small group. We set up a website and have been submitting our writing to each other for editing and ultimately, publishing our pieces.

When my bracelet didn’t come together, I found I craved the feedback, suggestions, and support of my fellow artists who knew how important it was to me that my work was beautiful.

Like my writing group, what my ladies’ group offered to me brought more color and dimension to what I could do on my own. As a team, we came up with the colors.

Team colors.

As individuals, we had separate ideas. Together, we made a beautiful, sparkly bracelet. I wanted a pink one, but I got a bracelet with complimentary colors that looked much better together. Sort of like my writing group and my ladies’ group.

The Lord brought the point home to me further when I remembered a story from the Easter service at Church of the Highlands.

I was touched as Pastor Chris showed two photos that inspired the colors spelling out ‘Easter’ on the front of the worship guide. The first showed a dry, brown desert scene. The second showed that same desert after an unusually heavy rain. As far as the eye could see, pastel colors had sprung up all over, pink, green, blue, and yellow.

Desert bloom photo source:

When I later ran across the worship guide in my Bible, I realized what drew me about the colors in the bracelet I had made. Except for yellow beads, which I wanted, but were not available at the time I made the bracelet, all the colors in the photo were reflected in the bracelet!

I later added yellow beads to my bracelet to complete the team colors. I ran that idea by the ladies in my group and showed them the yellow beads I’d purchased.

We are a team, after all!


Are you part of a team? Why not form your own Christian writing small group today? It’s a lot of fun!     

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7 Ways To Support Christian Writers And Authors

Many thousands of Christians believe writing is their primary gifting and calling.

This calling can be very lonely and painful. Christian writers often suffer from feelings of rejection, discouragement, and despair. They need support from the rest of the body.

Here are the top 7 ways to support Christian writers and authors.

7. Encourage them. Be intentional about finding the positive aspects of their work and offer praise. If someone’s writing seems so terrible that you can’t think of anything good to say, commend them for trying to find God’s will for their life.

6. Give them constructive feedback. Do not, under any circumstances, jump to number six without doing number seven first. Be very loving and gentle but say what needs to be said. If you see a lot of problems, just name the top three. Otherwise you will overwhelm the person.

5. Like and share their social media posts. Most writers I’ve met abhor social media. That may seem strange, but it is not conducive to most writers’ natural gifts. Social media success is much more of a learned skill and many writers do not have it. Plus, there are few things more awkward than sharing your own blog post on social media. But, Christian writers do it anyway. Make it easy on them.

4. Word of mouth. If their books or blogs are good, tell people. Don’t say, “A guy at my church wrote a book and he asked me to tell people about it.” Instead, just tell people about the awesome book you read. Tell people about the great new blog you found.

3. Pray. Writing is a ministry for Christian writers. Even those who write fiction try to witness and impart spiritual lessons through their stories. Like all ministries, Christian writing often comes under attack. We need your prayers for spiritual, physical, legal, commercial, and financial protection. We also need you to pray for God’s favor and blessing.

2. Buy their books. Buy extra copies for your friends. If their book is good enough, lead a book club or group study based on their book. Such direct support also has indirect benefits, especially if their books are available through online retailers like Amazon. They get bumped up in the rankings which makes the retailer show their books to more people.

And the number one way you can help Christian authors…

1. Reviews, reviews, and more reviews! These are huge, especially on Amazon. Enough good reviews on Amazon can increase sales exponentially. This method normally only costs a little time. Just read the book and write a review. Authors often give books away during promotions and are encouraged by Amazon to ask readers for honest reviews. However, be aware that you can’t post reviews for members of your household or close friends (see here for Amazon’s book review guidelines). But you could review for someone who attends your church as long as you aren’t close friends. You could also give a family member’s or close friend’s book to others and ask them if they will consider reading and reviewing it.

Many writers find it difficult to get reviews.

One Christian writer estimates that she has given away over 200 books and received only two reviews after doing so.

We can do a better job of supporting Christian writers.

Start today. You probably know someone in your circle who is blogging or writing books for the Lord. View this as an opportunity to bless someone who might be hurting.

Don’t wait.

Reach out and do three of the things on this list right now.

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Writing My First Christian Book: 5 Things I Learned

For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed writing. Even as a little girl, I wrote short stories and poetry. If I did not have my notebook with me when a great idea came to mind, I would write my stories on napkins. I also enjoy reading, and I knew that one day I wanted to write my own book. However, I had no clue what I would write about or how the publishing process worked.

Years later, in 2014, I began to sense more strongly that God wanted to use me through my writing. I had a few ideas in mind, but I wasn’t exactly sure what His plan entailed. I prayed diligently about my next steps and in 2015, God placed it in my heart to begin writing my first book.

At the time, I was in college, working a part-time job, and being paid minimum wage. I didn’t know how everything would work out or if I would be able to afford it, but I truly believed that God had asked me to do this. So, I decided to walk by faith and trust Him throughout the entire process. It has been a challenging yet fulfilling journey, and I have grown so much along the way.

Here are some things I’ve learned:


  1. Prayer

As a Christian writer, your greatest asset is a genuine relationship with God. He shares wisdom, insight, and creative ideas with those who are willing to listen and learn. God has the ability to reveal something to you in one moment, that may have taken hours to research and learn on your own.

Before and after I wrote anything that would be in my book, I prayed. Not only are we held accountable for our words, but I also wanted to make sure that my words were crafted in a way that was welcoming, genuine and relatable. Pray for your message and the impact it will have on those who read it.


  1. Purpose

God has a great purpose for calling you to write. He crafted you with special gifts and unique characteristics. No one else on this earth can do what God has called you to do, quite like you can. It simply won’t be marked by the beauty of your individuality. That idea you can’t stop thinking about, or the story you’ve been working on, will be a blessing to someone else.

However, if you choose not to answer God’s call, He will find someone else to fulfill that specific need in His Kingdom. Life goes on, and so does purpose.


  1. Prioritize

God is serious about your writing. Are you? If writing is what you truly believe God has called you to do, are you putting in the time and effort that is necessary to work on your assignment? Even if you don’t write every day, I suggest writing consistently and making it a priority. I have found it extremely helpful to make time to write, as opposed to finding time to write. I knew this was something that God had asked me to do, and I wanted to show Him that I had a serious and willing heart.


  1. Preparation

The hard work of a Christian author is not over once the manuscript is written. There are practical aspects to consider when writing a book. If I can be transparent, I could have spent much more time researching the process. There is quite a bit of strategic planning which must take place in regard to editing, formatting, publishing and promoting. When I write, I feel as though I am doing exactly what God has called me to do. However, preparation is just as important as writing.


  1. Pressure

You will face trials when you write a book that honors God. Do not allow those trials to discourage you or cause you to quit. They were designed to develop you and make you stronger. Everyone’s story will be different, but the most challenging part of my writing process was overcoming fear and shame. I chose to be vulnerable so that I could reach as many people as possible. That was not an easy thing for me to do, and God was still teaching me many of the things that I was writing about. He brought me to a place where I was comfortable sharing my story, and I began to understand that my writing was not about me, but the people who would be reading it. Again, God has purpose in mind when He calls you to something, and He will equip you with everything you need to fulfill that purpose.


As Christians, we are called to walk by faith. If you believe God is leading you to write a Christian book, go for it! God will bless you with the resources and support you need. He is ready to guide you beyond your comfort zone and into purpose!

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Lightning McQueen Monster Truck

You know that moment of uncertainty you experience when your toddler is super excited about something he’s done? There could be something precious around the corner, or there could be a clean-up on aisle three.

This past Saturday, I got to experience one of the precious moments. My 3-year-old son was playing by himself with a new set of Legos from the Cars 3 movie. He came into the living room and called to me.

“Daddy, come look!”

His enthusiasm was contagious.

As I followed him to where he’d been playing, he repeated, “Lightning McQueen wants a monsser truck. Lightning McQueen wants a monsser truck.”

I was intrigued.

We entered the dining room, where he displayed his new creation for me.

He had removed the original tires from his Lightning McQueen toy and replaced them with tires from a different toy—transforming Lightning McQueen into a monster truck!

I’ve been thinking a lot about whether people would like or not like, accept or reject, this website and our writing efforts. I’ve been through a lot of rejection over the last nine years. I desperately want to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead. But in many ways, I feel like I just lost a war and am now being asked to go into new battles. So, I struggle a good bit with feelings of discouragement and rejection.

In the middle of the night, I woke up thinking about some of these issues. I said, “Lord, do you like the website? Do you think it’s good? Are you proud of us?”

God responded by reminding me of the Lightning McQueen Monster Truck.

I was extremely proud of my son when I saw what he had made! My heart swelled with delight and joy to see his creativity. I was excited with him and for him over what his little hands had crafted. All he did was take some pieces and rearrange them. I know that. But, my little creative genius came up with the idea all by himself.

He put a different character’s mouthpiece on McQueen because he thought it looked good that way. Working hard, he also found a solution to an engineering problem he encountered. The larger tires would not fit on McQueen until he removed the side panels. He used his sweet little mind, imagination, and creativity to make something that I thought was absolutely amazing! Why?

Because I’m his dad and I love him.

Oh, how I love him! I love him more than words can express.

Have you recently stepped out in faith to create something for the Lord? Have you been wondering whether others would accept or reject it? Let me assure you of one thing. Your heavenly Dad is incredibly proud of you today!

He loves what you’re doing for Him! He’s not looking to see whether you’ve gotten everything perfect yet. He is thrilled over your efforts to create something that brings Him glory and helps others.

He is singing over you today!

“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

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