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Friday, March 14, 2014

Pregnant with Story

by Allen Arnold

It matters how a story is conceived.

Nothing is more important to
a novel than how it was created.
And who you were during its creation.
__________

Let’s start at the beginning
The time you first flirted with the idea.

Neither of you were looking for anything serious.
But your eyes met.
Sparks flew.
You fell in love and
got married to the idea.

The next thing you know...
you are pregnant with story.

This affects male
and female writers alike.

You love the story inside you.
Can’t wait for it to be born.

But man, is it messy.

Part inspiration.
Part isolation.

You write all night.
Eat too many Doritos.
Your clothes don’t fit.
Your brain goes fuzzy.
And all your friends are out playing
while you’re in this whole new chapter.

You are officially Pregnant with Story.

And what you do during these months
will forever determine the life of your novel.

______________


Am I saying that who you are – and what you do – during the creation of your novel is more important than anything else?

Yes. Absolutely.

Am I talking about you hitting a certain word count each day?

Not at all.

Is this about a killer concept, craft mastery, or better social media strategy?

No. There’s a place for those.
But they are never the foundation.

The main reason God has given you the gift of story
is for the two of you to spend time together.
The Creator showing the created how to create.

Can you fathom that? God wants to spend time creating with you. You have a unique passion for story because God knit that into your being. Why? I believe it is for your own heart and, secondarily, for the hearts of those who will read your stories.

If you get so busy writing that you miss that,
your story will be less than it could.

Because you can’t write a better story than you’re living.

But we try. During my 20 years in the publishing industry, I worked with hundreds of authors and most struggled to remember this during the creative process.

So let me ask you...

If your future readers could see the process of how you create, would they want to read your story once it is born?

When you find yourself pregnant with story, here are three ways to carry it well.

1.    While You’re Expecting...Stay Expectant

In Scripture, I love Mary’s reaction after realizing she is with child. That God has – in the most miraculous way – allowed her to participate in the birth of the Savior.

Her primary emotion is awe.

“I’m bursting with good news.
I’m dancing with the song of my Savior God...
His mercy flows in wave after wave
On those who are in awe before him.”
(The Message, Luke 1)

When you are giving birth to story – is your primary emotion one of awe?

Do you awake expectant about all God has in store for you each day? I try to begin each morning, before my feet hit the floor, asking, “Father, what do you have planned for us today?” It is a spirit of fellowship and expectancy...of walking with God in a constant state of awe.

This enables life to enter the pages you are writing.

But if you spend more time with your fictional characters than God, your words will lack life. If you are huffing and puffing on worry and stress during the creative process, your story will be born small and frail.

In actual pregnancies, experts have shown that when a mother-to-be is overly stressed about her birth, the pre-born baby can feel it. This impacts not just the pregnancy but also the child. How do you think stressful days of cranking out a manuscript will impact the life of your book?  Can words of life and creativity really make into your story when there’s no awe in the storyteller?

2.    Nourish Yourself...and Your Story

When pregnant with story, you must make sure you consume things that nourish both your soul and your story.

Philippians 4:8 (The Message) urges us to focus on things that are “noble, pure, true, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” Yet pop culture feeds us a steady diet of media void of any real life. It offers songs and story that celebrate hopelessness, death, violence, gratuitous sex, narcissism, and the use of God and Jesus’ name as slurs. It’s hard to create life if you are consuming this toxic mix of junk food.

3.    Setting Your Story Apart

Remember Hannah. She wanted a son more than anything else. So she made God a promise. If God would give her a son, she vowed:  “I will give him completely and unreservedly to you. I will set him apart for a life of holy discipline.” (The Message). And God did just that. His name was Samuel.

God made a barren womb a place of life. And God is the one who will bring your stories to life. I encourage you to follow Hannah’s example. Even before you have the idea – give your future story completely and unreservedly to God. Set it apart and allow God to do with it what he desires. It is the bold act of giving back to God what he so generously gave to you.

Yet many see the birth of story as their ticket to fame or validation. We wouldn’t put that burden on our child. And we shouldn’t put it on our novel. The reason to have a child – and a story – is to bring life into the world and to make it a better place. Not to enhance our stature or comfort.

____________

At last...the big day arrives.

You give birth.
What started as an idea is fully realized.

The press release, um, I mean birth announcement, goes out.

But by then, the story’s destiny is already set.

It was formed into either an offering or a means to something other while the story was developing inside you and being created.

It all depends on understanding why God has given you the gift of story – and what your story is – as you create.

Invite him into the process.
Give him your story as an offering before it is born.

Because it matters how a story is conceived. 

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 write from an awakened heart. 

4 comments:

Michael Ehret said...

I could not agree more, Allen. But I would not have thought to put it in this context. For me, I best remember my stories by what I was doing and where I was (emotionally and spiritually) when the idea struck.

Deborah Raney said...

It takes me about 9 months to write a novel, so this is such an apt analogy for me. I'm in the final "trimester" with my current work-in-progress so thank you for the encouraging words, Allen. :)

Cynthia Ruchti said...

So near to my own experience each time. Thank you for the wise counsel, too, Allen.

Karen Barnett said...

"If you are huffing and puffing on worry and stress during the creative process, your story will be born small and frail." Such truth! Thank you for sharing, Allen. I'm so thankful God led me to the "Live Free, Write Free" class you taught with Jim Rubart (ACFW 2013) because He used it to open my eyes to how I was trying desperately to control everything about my writing, rather than turning to Him for strength. So freeing!