Run to the Unknown
by Allen Arnold
We gravitate to the known. Familiarity feels good whether it’s our favorite pair of jeans, the movie that never grows old or the annual vacation getaway.
Doing what we’ve done before can be stabilizing and comforting – but it rarely stretches us.
The same applies to your life as a writer. Mastering a skill is never the finish line for an artist but simply an invitation towards the next starting block. It is your chance to breathe something into existence the world has yet to imagine. A story that you didn’t believe you could write a year ago but now see the way.
This month, I step into a new first.
I will attend my first writer’s conference as a student.
Yes, I’ve been to dozens of writer’s conferences during more than twenty years in the publishing industry. But each time, I was on assignment – either to represent the Christian Fiction division I served as Publisher or, more recently, to offer a keynote message, teach a class or serve on the board of the conference. All good things...but not the same.
This week I get to be the student. No one expects me to share any wisdom or make things go right. I have total freedom to simply sit at the feet of others and savor what is being offered. It is both exciting and wildly disruptive to a guy who lived too much of life trying to earn his place at the table.
You may be in the opposite situation. If you’ve been the student at several conferences – perhaps it’s time for you to offer to lead a session. Or if you attend the same gathering every year with the same people, why not fly across the country by yourself to an event where no one knows your name?
Years ago, I heard the concept of a Learning Bandwidth that made a huge impact on my life. It’s based on the ratio of how much we speak versus how much we listen. From there, it calculates our capacity – or bandwidth – for learning. The premise is we only learn when we hear new ideas and information – and we only do that by listening to others. When we dominate a conversation – we say what we already know (or think we know). In the next 24 hours, notice your ratio of talking versus asking questions and active listening.
I encourage you to run into the unknown this summer. Rather than remain in the place where you have all the answers, enter into a hobby or a vacation or class where you are the student. Skip your favorite lunch hangout for the place you haven’t eaten at before. Visit the church on the other end of town. Pick up an instrument you’ve never played. All of these will stimulate your senses in a new way.
When it comes to story, discover the art of writing with God rather than writing for or about him. If you’d like to learn more about that, I share thoughts on how to experience creative intimacy with God in a blog post titled The Deeper Magic of Writing.
God is constantly inviting us into new frontiers where we can’t rely on our own strength or past experience to get us through. In these journeys, he offers no upfront map. The only way to navigate the terrain is with him or the people he provides along the way.
Here’s the reason why. Once you’ve mastered something, it’s too easy to rely on yourself. God constantly is wooing us to pursue our gifting with him.
Sometimes we don’t expose ourselves to the new because deep down we feel inadequate. We know we need help but are unsure whom to ask. But as Anthony Hopkins said in The Mask of Zorro, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Are you ready?
This is your invitation to enter new frontiers that force you to be a beginner again. The goal isn’t simply to conquer whatever is new...another notch on your belt of accomplishments. The goal is to listen more. Discover more. Stretch more. If you go all out, you will come to know God in new ways that only present themselves when you reach the end of yourself.
Watch the effect it has on you. As my friend John Eldredge recently said, “What good is a new frontier if you get into it and emerge out of it exactly the same person?”
Become a student again. Learn from other people. Learn from God. In the process, you will become a new creation. And that, in turn, will transform the way you create.
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.