by Bret Lott

Of course, the writing tip of all writing tips is that to be a writer you actually have to enjoy sitting down alone with all the words there ever were and sorting them out one at a time to make a sentence worthy of giving to someone else. You’d be surprised how many people want to skip this step, and just want to have written instead of actually surrendering the time it takes to write. So, you have to love being lost in
the weeds of words and being alone.

You have to write to be a writer.

Beyond that, I want to say that precision is the rule of the day. You must be precise when you write.

Precision is the lifeblood of good writing, and precision starts with your own life. Precision starts with the real. Precision starts in the experiences you yourself have had, and if you want to write—and this is the crux of the whole thing—you better pay attention to what is happening around YOU as a means by which to begin to be precise.

You better have ears to hear and eyes to see.

The best writing comes out of our own experience. Too often we discount that experience, though, because we read all these stories out there of other people, characters who live where we don’t live, who have lives different than ours. But what makes those stories speak to us is the level of precision with which those stories are rendered. It’s a counterintuitive notion, but the more particularly particular the details of the story, the more universally it will be understood. And because you are the owner of the particular details of your life, there’s nobody better equipped than you to draw in your readers to the world you’re creating within your story.

I don’t think we need precision, mind you, just because details are fun and because they let us see the story. Precision is, finally, much bigger than that. I hold that we must write with precision because we serve a precise God. Not a sparrow falls that He doesn’t know about it. He knows the number of hairs on my head; indeed, He’s known me since before I was born! My writing ought to be precise, therefore, because I have been made in the image of God, and not blurrily in His image, not almost in His image, not close enough in His image. For this reason, my writing ought not to be blurry or almost clear or just close enough. It must be precise.

Trust your life. Pay attention to its details and to the world around you. Use your ears to hear and your eyes to see. Give back to your reader the precise details you have been given by our God that define you as you. Because in those details we readers will see the story, and thereby see ourselves.


Bret Lott will keynote and teach a seven-hour coaching class “Deepening Your Fiction Through Details” at the 2020 Oregon Christian Writers Summer Conference, August 17–20.

Bret Lott is the best-selling author of 14 books, including Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian, the story collection The Difference Between Women and Men, and the novels Jewel (an Oprah Book Club pick) and A Song I Knew by Heart. His work has been translated into eight languages and has appeared in such places as The Yale Review, The New York Times, The Georgia Review, Vanity Fair Online, and dozens of anthologies. His honors include being named Fulbright Senior American Scholar and writer-in-residence to Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv in 2006–2007, speaking on Flannery O’Connor at the White House, and serving as a member of the National Council on the Arts from 2006 to 2012. He currently teaches writing at the College of Charleston.