When Formula Sneaks In

by Allen Arnold
One of the most deadly assaults on your
creativity comes in the form of formula.
We desire success for our stories. And
formulas seem to offer us that promise. All we need to do is master the ten
steps or four laws or read the new book. Or follow the blueprint that worked
for that other successful author. Surely it would work for us as well.
Except it won’t.
Because no one in publishing has the formula.
If they did, we’d know it by now. Every
publisher and industry expert would regularly predict next year’s big books and
breakout authors.
Except they don’t.
But the pull is magnetic. Some formulas make
us feel productive or in control–like relentlessly hitting our daily word count
no matter what. Other formulas feel impossible to ignore–like the constraints
of a genre or the man-made rules of an industry.
They can also be subtle. Formulas attach
themselves to our gifting while whispering in our ears that any hope of success
is dependent on them.
And here’s where it gets confusing. Some
formulas do work–at least outwardly and at least for a time. Once a writer has
a bestseller, the pressure is immense to figure out how to make lightning
strike again. So the author and publishing team attempt to retrace the path that
led to the initial fame. And though the first breakout was almost always based
on a fresh new concept involving some level of risk, somehow the thinking goes
that future success can be bottled or repeated. What was fresh becomes stale.
God doesn’t appear to be a fan of formulas. In
Old Testament battles, he constantly revealed disruptive new ways for his followers
to achieve victory. The same with Jesus. He rarely approached healings the same
way. And during the Israelites 40-year desert tour, they learned the hard way
not to depend on yesterday’s manna.
Rather than give us a formula that works, God instead
gives us himself.  He is far less
interested in our success (or repeated success) than in our intimacy with him. Yet
when we place our faith, hope and trust in formulas to achieve the dreams God has
placed in our hearts, we lose what matters most. The reason why is simple.  Formulas don’t require God’s presence. Worse,
they offer the illusion of control in place of intimacy and dependence on a wild,
unpredictable, playful, non-formulaic Creator.
So while discipline, productivity, and hard
work are helpful tools for any serious writer, they are far too dull to carve a
path to true creative intimacy with the Father. The tools aren’t bad. They’re
just woefully inadequate for the higher journey we are invited on.
Imagine what’s possible as you–and your
stories–break free from formulas. The process requires a daily dependence on
God, trusting him to provide all that’s needed each day. Which, as it turns
out, is not only the best way to eat manna but also the best way to write
stories.
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.