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Friday, February 14, 2014

Out of the Creative Desert ~ by Allen Arnold

Allen Arnold loves the epic adventure God has set before him. From the mountains of Colorado, he leads Content & Resources for Ransomed Heart Ministries (led by John Eldredge). Before that, he spent 20 years in Christian Publishing - overseeing the development of more than 500 novels as founder and Publisher of Thomas Nelson Fiction. He was awarded the ACFW Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. But that doesn't really describe the man. Allen savors time with his family, craves the beach, drinks salsa by the glass, is hooked on the TV series "Once Upon a Time" and is passionate about helping storytellers tell better stories from an awakened heart.

~ Out of the Creative Desert ~

I was in a Mexican restaurant, savoring the salsa when I saw it.

The children’s menu was a coloring page with illustrations of scrub brush, cactus, and sand. And this headline:

“Draw Yourself in the Desert”

I did a double take.

What kind of depressing invitation is that?

Who would spend creative energy to purposely draw themselves into such a dry and desolate place?

Then it hit me.

We do.

Our imagination is stirred by an idea and we set out to chase it on our own...because, well, creating is mostly done in isolation, right? We get busy and do. Then ask God to bless it.

We forget that the process of creation is actually 
an invitation into fellowship. An invitation for us not to simply write about God or even for him. But with him. Together.

So we spend hours, days and months on our solo journey. And then we look up to find ourselves lost, parched and alone. We’ve drawn ourselves into a desert. Thankfully, God draws as well. He is constantly drawing us out of the desert... to himself.

I live in Colorado – home of many famous mountain peaks that are at least 14,000 feet high. I climbed one a few years ago and can definitively tell you – it’s impossible to accidentally climb up a mountain. It requires intention.

But it’s easy to unintentionally find yourself in the desert...especially these creative dead zones:

#1: Desert of Lost Dreams
This is the desert for those unable to gain traction with their stories. It is a dry land of frustration, doubt, envy and weariness. In the blistering sun, it is easy to believe you are alone and forgotten...that all hope is lost. So remember - God loves finding what was once lost. Especially when what you’ve lost is his original dream for you.

#2: Desert of Striving
It begins with this subtle agreement: the success of my calling is all up to me. Industry experts state you’ll never be a success unless you become a marketing expert, master countless tips and techniques, and transform into a social media guru. In essence, spend less time creating with God and more time making it happen. But these are never the main things. If God has called you to you really think it all hinges on your continual self-promotion? Create with God and then watch as he prepares the way – a way that is never paved with striving, fear or driveness. 

#3: Desert of Presumption
You aren’t promised endless stories...or a career of steadily increasing sales. Does that make you uneasy? Feel negative? I’ve seen many writers with more books on their contract than stories God has given them. Many books written to hit a deadline more than out of desire. It’s a nightmare to wake up and realize your next book is due in 60 days and you have no idea what to write. When creating, don’t commit to more than God has committed to you. Live expectantly – without expectations – to avoid this desert. 

Whether the path that drew you into the desert was one of immense success, failure or simply striving, the end result is you find yourself weary in the burning sand.

And when you’re in the desert, the sense of isolation only intensifies. Desperation sets in. Some give up their calling. Others scribble a story identical to what they’ve written many times before...a safe formula. And many just hunker down, hit their daily word count and try to make it out alive.

But the world doesn’t need more of those books.

A friend of mine was recently thirty days from her manuscript deadline. She had already been given multiple extensions and was filled with stress and worry. There was little joy or creative fellowship. As gently as possible, I told her I didn’t think I wanted to read her book when it was done. I couldn’t imagine spending 300 pages in a book born under such a stressful, cold, rushed manner. How could the words on a page possibly bring life that she herself didn’t seem to have?

But there is a way out of the desert...a way back to life. 

An author recently said, “It’s sometimes easy to forget why you’re writing in the first place.”

So we must remember.

This story is my touchstone that reminds me
why we do what we do.

I have a big truck.

And I have an eight-year-old son who loves to ride with me.

He doesn’t sit in the back seat – where there’s plenty of room.

He doesn’t even sit in the passenger seat.

No, he pulls himself in and immediately flips up the console / drink holder between the two main front seats.

He slides over to sit right next to me. Leg touching leg. Arm touching arm.

It’s funny...he doesn’t care where we go. Doesn’t even ask.

He’s there for the shared adventure. He knows I’m the driver. So he doesn’t ask if I have enough gas. Or know the directions. Or remembered my wallet.

He is content to be with me and ride.

God has a much bigger truck. And he’s here to take you out of the desert. Please don’t try to grab the wheel. You don’t know the best way home.

Just remember.

The reason God invited you into this calling is not primarily about your talent or because the world needs more stories.

It is so you can play together, ride together, create together. So you can walk in the garden and experience intimacy and awe with your Father.

The Creator and his creation creating together.

Jump in his truck, slide in close and enjoy the ride as he draws you out of the desert and into your best story yet.

The story you come up with together.

The story of creative fellowship. 


  1. Good post, Allen. I tend to get caught up in the part of writing that has nothing to do with the act of writing itself. We slip easily into the daily chorus of "market, market, market!" and forget what first drove us to the keyboard. Christian writers are different that secular writers. Some of us need that constant reminder, that we're not writing for the same reaons and we're not inspired by the same source. Thanks again for the reminder.

  2. Really nice. The timing is perfect. My first day as a "published" author in a collaboration. I'll take this to heart :)

  3. I can relate to #3 in one way. When I finished my last manuscript, I got started on the next. I wanted to place the story at the beach. I love Southern beach stories. I found Dauphin Island and began. Only I couldn't write the story. It came out all wrong and not in my voice. Numerous things happened and finally, I realized God was telling me , "No. Not the beach." I got back in line with the setting He had given me originally, and the story began to flow. It was such an eye-opener!

  4. Nicely said and touching...I believe the concept.

  5. ...climbing up in the seat next to my Daddy

  6. Gah! I'm in tears. So needed this, Allen. Thank you!!

  7. Allen, Great story and good advice.

  8. Boy is this perfect timing for me as I turn in one book and begin another. Nothing worse than writing just to meet a deadline. I'm taking a different approach this time and have no doubt it will go better. Thanks for this.


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