Manuscript Madness: Tips for Manuscript Writing

Every preacher will most likely begin their career writing manuscripts. It’s one of the basic practices of preaching. For those of you who are starting out (and for those brushing up), here are some things to keep in mind when writing manuscripts:

(1) Start with an outline.

A good outline is essential to writing a logical and coherent manuscript. The outline shows the flow of thought of your message from one logical point to another. Your manuscript should embody that flow of thought. So even before you begin writing your manuscript, you should have an outline ready. If you find that your outlines are on the flimsy side, see the series, Skeleton, for ways to beef them up.

(2) Collect ideas early on.

It’ll be helpful to collect ideas all throughout your sermon preparation. Start gathering illustrations and support material as early as you can so that you’ll have a good pool of ideas as you work on your manuscript. Jot every idea that comes to mind. You can weed out poor ideas later on.

(3) Be precise when it matters.

One of the reasons I stopped writing manuscripts was because I became obsessed with creating perfect ones. Every word, phrase, and sentence had to be just the way I wanted them. Creating the perfect manuscript proved to be incredibly time consuming and exhausting. What I didn’t realize was that you didn’t have to be precise all the time. You can say a statement half a dozen ways and still get the same point across. However, there are times when you do need to be precise like when explaining a complex theological concept. Save your precision for times like those.

(4) Write out your transitions.

Transitions are statements that make connections. They show the relationship between ideas and concepts. Well-thought out transitions are essential to a logical and coherent sermon. Major transitions that you should write out include: the transition between the introduction and the first key point; between two key points; and between the last key point and the conclusion. Put some thought into your transition statements. Good transitions can make the difference between a coherent sermon and confusing one. I’ll do a whole series on transitions later on in this blog.

(5) Write over a stretch of time.

I find that it’s more productive and less taxing to write the manuscript over a period of several days rather than cramming it all into one. Writing a full manuscript in a single day gets old pretty quickly. What I tend to do now is write the manuscript in portions. I’ll write the introduction on one day, the first key point on another, and so on. For you to be able to do this, you will need to plan ahead and set aside time every day to work on the manuscript. In the end, however, I believe the process will be less stressful and less taxing on you.

(6) Watch the number of pages.

Figure out how long it will take you to preach a page that is single-spaced. Personally, I’ve figured out that a single-spaced page is equivalent to about 5 minutes of preaching time. So a 6-page manuscript would roughly yield a 30-minute sermon. Having a larger number of pages will mean that you need to speak faster in order to get through all of it. Unfortunately, speaking faster is not a very good idea for the clarity of your message. Watch the number of pages so that you don’t go excessively overtime on Sunday morning.

Join the discussion: What other tips do you have for manuscript writing?

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Series: Manuscript Madness


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