All the News That’s Fit to Tell and How to Tell It: How to Write Christian NewslettersWritten by Amy Young Reviewed By Jaclyn S. Parrish
To anyone who has never been required either to write or read a steady flow of missionary newsletters, an entire book dedicated solely to that purpose might seem excessive. Nevertheless, having periodically found myself at both ends of the newsletter production line, I have seen and can testify that Amy Young’s latest work is a godsend for missionaries and their supporters alike. Young, Director of Global Operations for Velvet Ashes, speaks from her years of experience as a missionary to Asia. The result is both spiritually insightful and deeply practical, a gift and a guide to amateurs, veterans, and every newsletter writer in between.
Young begins where the process of writing itself begins, in the mind of the writer. Her first section (pp. 5–15) addresses “The Unseen Battle” of correcting and solidifying one’s mindset in order to write with confidence. In this chapter, she demonstrates how to break out of the negative patterns of thought and attitude that so easily derail the writing process: perfectionism, fear of failure, comparison, fear of criticism, and so forth. She then devotes a chapter to clarifying and establishing one’s individual motivation for newsletter-writing, finding a “why … strong enough to hold you when emotion dies” (p. 18). Having established the mental, spiritual, and emotional posture that undergird the process of writing newsletters, she then devotes the remainder of All the News to equipping readers with a set of practical tools.
Some of Young’s input is designed for newsletter writers in particular. She outlines the unique structure common to this genre and demonstrates how to enliven that structure with visual elements. Along with this instruction, she provides a full chapter on “blend[ing] explaining and storytelling,” moving beyond the plain delivery of news to “act[ing] as a bit of a tour guide sharing your cultural context … while illustrating your explanation with stories” (p. 35).
The bulk of All the News, however, is simply good writing advice, tailored ever-so-slightly for the newsletter-writing missionary. This includes ground rules for employing strong verbs and concrete language as well as rooting out repetitive language and developing a concise, readable style. Some chapters equip writers to foster their unique writing voice. Other sections help missionaries to seek out and accept qualitative feedback. She even demonstrates how to cultivate the introspective and observational skills needed to glean writing material from the rhythms everyday of life.
If those seeking to master writing should consult Douglas Wilson’s Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2011), then All the News is for those who have had writing thrust upon them. Young acknowledges this reality in her first chapter, admonishing the reader that “[w]hether you enjoy writing or not, the truth is your job now requires you to write” (p. 7). She takes on the role of training a potentially unwilling audience in a daunting task. Her tone, content, and structure all expertly flow from a sober recognition of that fact.
In light of that dynamic, Young’s chapters on mindset and motivation are essential to the success of All the News. Cross-cultural ministry is one of the most disorienting experiences a believer can undergo. All the tethers of identity (e.g., homeland, language, hobbies, friends, family, religious experience) have drastically changed, if not entirely disappeared. All the daily rhythms of life have been disrupted. In the midst of such an undertaking, the added stress of communicating that experience to a distant audience can register as an existential crisis rather than a passing annoyance. Young’s description of the devil’s attacks in this area is not remotely hyperbolic: “He is your adversary, strongly opposed to you communicating and connecting with your supporters. He will … tell you that you are not a good enough writer, not doing enough, not being spiritual enough” (p. 8). As such, far from being a mere perfunctory pick-me-up, these chapters establish the exact tone of grace and encouragement necessary for the reluctant writer to hear and accept her advice.
Young balances that advice skillfully between the general and the specific, casting a clear vision without being unduly prescriptive. Her advice on outlining and prewriting provides structure, but she also creates ample space for creativity within that structure. Likewise, the chapter on visual elements (co-written with photographer and missionary Kathryn Bronn) is a magnificent miniature crash-course in photography. Her recommendations for “Where to Find Material” (pp. 102–12) are an especial boon to missionaries whose communications are hampered by security concerns.
Even the visual structure and layout of All the News facilitate Young’s intentions. The work is broken into carefully measured paragraphs with bolded subtitles, optimizing the work not only for initial digestibility but also for ongoing review. Each chapter ends with action steps for applying and practicing new methods and ideas. She even closes the book with a brief checklist reviewing the key takeaways of each chapter, the perfect conclusion for this guidebook.
Step by deliberate step, Amy Young dispels the glamour and mystery surrounding good writing. She reveals the entire process to be a simple (if not easy) matter of hard work and consistent practice. In the end, All the News more than earns its place in the limited square footage of any missionary’s luggage.
Jaclyn S. Parrish
Jaclyn S. Parrish
B. H. Carroll Theological Institute
Irving, Texas, USA