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Friday, February 13, 2015

7 Days to Less Productivity and More Creativity

by Allen Arnold
Seven Days to
Less Productivity
and More Creativity

I’ll be honest. I’ve never been a fan of man-made rules.

Especially when they come from authority figures that promise life but deliver heaviness.

At my son’s 4th grade basketball game last week, this poster greeted those entering the gym:

4 Questions

1)            What are you doing?
2)            What are you supposed to be doing?
3)            Are you doing that?
4)            What are you going to do? When are you going to start?

What??? Far more damaging than the sign’s bad math (there are actually five questions – not four) is the assumption that “doing” is the main thing. In a world of “doing”, we have lost the art of “being”.

Notice what effect the sign’s words have on your heart. Do the questions stir feelings of joy and life (it is, after all, posted outside a place to play games)...or evoke a sense of shame or blame because you aren’t doing enough.

When it comes to your writing, man-made rules can have the same effect. Authors regularly tell me they enter writer’s conferences or read books on writing full of hope – but by the end, they are simply overwhelmed.

This can happen because man-made rules and systems tend to overcomplicate, over control and over systematize things – especially when the subject at hand is God’s gift of story, imagination and ideas. We have to be careful of anything that pulls our eyes from the Giver of the gift to the gift itself as our primary focus and identity.

Sometimes an analogy helps:

Imagine you are on a field. God has given a ball to each person there. Most leave the ball on the field and walk away. Others polish the ball and display it in a glass case. Some see how far they can throw the ball. They develop rules and exercises and disciplines to be the best and master the game.

But all of them missed why God invited his children on the field. He stands on the field waiting. He is looking for those rare ones who want to play catch with him. Who enjoy his presence even more than the game.

He is waiting on you as well. 

He’s invited you onto the creative playground. Don’t run off with your story. Or get busy trying to write for God or minister to others with it. He most wants you to write with him.

So here is my invitation.

A week of writing different. For seven days, I invite you to experience creative disruption. Forget word count goals. Unplug from social media. Quit reading industry stats and trends.

Instead, spend seven writing days free from all the man-made rules and industry assumption you’ve held sacred. While you’re at it, abstain from all the unique habits (quirks?) you’ve depended on to maximize your creativity. For one week, lay all those things aside and walk into this new frontier with no expectations, demands, or sacred cows.

As you start, the only goal is this – greater intimacy with God in your creativity.

I know, I know. This can be a feel a bit unnerving. Unproductive. Impractical.
Perhaps overly simplistic. What if God doesn’t show up? Or what if he does ... then what?

The enemy will try anything to prevent you from discovering how your calling is an invitation into greater creative intimacy with God.

This is not a time of stained glass, head bowed prayer. It is not a time of silence or solitude. Silence and solitude are what you get when you write alone.

This is dynamic, eyes-open, unpredictable interaction with the God who created beaches, lightning storms, ice cream, the human form and starry skies. He invented worlds and words.

Story? That was his idea too.

Rather than spend another week writing by yourself, you get to ask the Creator questions, listen, talk, laugh, play and dream together.

This is not a side benefit or add-on to how you write. It is not an “I’ll give this ten minutes but then if nothing happens, it’s back to what works”. No, this is the go-for-broke approach of Moses in the desert.  “God, if you don’t show up, let’s call this whole trip off.”

What will happen in those seven days?

You may get a new story idea.

You may get several chapters written.

You may get massive breakthrough for your career.

Or you may get a blank screen because God invites you to walk with him, dance with him, or lean on him. Maybe he wants to play a game of catch together ... this time with ideas instead of a ball.

Regardless of anything else, you always get God when you pursue him.

And His presence trumps all productivity. Just as your story with him trumps any story you could write alone.

Seven days. That’s the invitation. Then compare the week with him to the prior week of  creating alone. See which approach offers more freedom and life for you as a storyteller. See which rhythm leads to greater creativity.

This isn’t some new rule or man-made system. You’ve likely tried enough of those already. This is about letting go and following God into the creative wild.

I have no idea what he has planned for your seven days together. Nor do you.

But don’t you want to find out?

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. 


  1. I love this, Allen. When I teach on characterization, I ask the class to free write backstory for the character. It's fun to watch their faces as they of that. Some never have, others who have, soar with it. Thanks again for a wonderfully inspiring post!

  2. Thank you, Allen! I needed something like this.

  3. I'm beginning to pin your articles on my bulletin board. SO life giving! "…your calling is an invitation into greater creative intimacy with God." I was half way through this article when I felt hope welling up inside of me so I scrolled up to find the author…of course, it's Allen Arnold!


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