A Prophet Among You


Preparation of Articles and Books During Ellen White’s Lifetime

In describing the preparation of an Ellen White book, no one procedure can be presented as a uniform plan that she followed through the seventy years of her ministry. Her first book, Experience and Views, published in 1851, was largely a collection of visions which had been previously published in broadsides and periodical articles. The books that followed during the next three decades were written chapter by chapter in their natural development of subject matter. Those published during the last half of Ellen White’s ministry were comprised of matter currently written and materials drawn from the reservoir of her writings—periodical articles, early books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and letters. To all these Mrs. White added pertinent passages enriching and rounding out the presentation for the forthcoming book. Thus in her later life she made much use of her earlier writings. APAY 335.1

Ellen White said little about the preparation of her writings for publication before the death of her husband. She mentioned, as we have already noted, that he frequently assisted her, and that, in later years, because of the press of duties, others also were called upon for help. After the death of James White, however, helpers were regularly employed to aid in gathering from all her writings pertinent material to form articles for the papers and chapters for books. The work of these helpers was most valuable to Mrs. White, and its nature should be carefully investigated so that it might be fully understood. W. C. White, Ellen White’s son and assistant, described a part of the work of the assistants as follows: APAY 335.2

“Mother writes very rapidly. She does much of her writing early in the morning. She often writes upon many subjects in one letter or manuscript, just as subject after subject is flashed upon her mind. These manuscripts she passes to one who is expert in reading her writing, to copy off on the typewriter, and then it is given back to Mother, and she examines it, making such corrections, changes, and additions as she sees fit. Then it is copied again, and sent out according to Mother’s direction. Sometimes a long personal letter will contain matter which she wishes to use in a more general letter to be sent to a group of workers. Sometimes it contains material for an article for one of our periodicals, or a chapter in a book.” “The Integrity of the Testimonies to the Church,” Nov. 25, 1905. Ellen G. White Publications Office Document File 107d. APAY 336.1

The manuscripts that came from the pen of Ellen White varied considerably in editorial perfection. When she wrote at a moderate speed, and not under undue pressure because of traveling, preaching, or other responsibilities, her work revealed good grammar, careful sentence structure, and comparative freedom from errors in spelling and punctuation. Haste in writing multiplied the minor errors, but it did not materially affect the flow of the language or the development of ideas. Repetitions crept in and at times thoughts were introduced which contained gems of truth, but which were not entirely relevant to the subject at hand. Again, there were instances when the transposition of a passage would add strength or lead to a more logical presentation. Under instruction from Mrs. White, her literary assistants were to make such changes as would, within the framework of her thoughts and words, render the passages grammatically and rhetorically correct. Nothing was added, and no thoughts were changed. APAY 336.2

After the suggested changes and copying were completed, the manuscript was returned to Ellen White for her additions, corrections, and approval. She reread carefully the whole of the matter, made her insertions, deletions, and revisions, and then turned it back to the copyist for the final draft to be made. The finished copy was then returned to her for reading, approval, and signature. APAY 337.1

In a letter to Elder G. A. Irwin she told of her preferred method of working to perfect her manuscripts. The letter spoke of her need for workers on her staff, and it illustrates her method of editorial work. A typewritten copy of Mrs. White’s handwritten letter was returned to her for corrections. APAY 337.2

The resulting sentences read: “I ought to have someone to whom I can read every article before sending it to the mail. This always helps the writer: for the writer, after reading the matter before one who is interested, often discerns more clearly what is wanted, and the slight changes that should be made.” Ellen G. White Letter 76, 1897. APAY 337.3

Thus Mrs. White was intelligently responsible for the whole manuscript. She was certain that nothing done by her assistants had in any way altered the ideas she was trying to convey. It was the Lord’s message given through His messenger just as truly as though every sentence had been written in its final form at the time it was first drafted. APAY 337.4

“Her copyists have been conscientious people and were faithful in following her instructions, that no change of thought and no additional thought should be brought into the work by them. And that there might not be any error through their misunderstanding of the manuscript or any change of thought through their grammatical corrections, she has faithfully examined the manuscripts again, and when the presentation was satisfactory to her, she gave it her approval, and not until then was it sent out as copy for the printer, or as letter or manuscript to men, or groups of men for their instruction.” W. C. White Letter in Ellen G. White Office Document File 52a. APAY 337.5