Formula or Freedom?

Writing-with-freedom

by Allen Arnold, @TheStoryofWith

When you sit down to write, how much free reign does your story have?

Can it go where it pleases or do pre-determined guardrails restrain it? Is your story evaluated on how original it is – or how similar it is to what’s popular in the marketplace? Does the cover have permission to wear an unexpected look – or must it mirror other covers in the genre? Can your story be as long or short as needed –or is it locked into a traditional word count?

Writing-with-freedom

With so many creative people working in the world of story, how did we become so comfortable with the familiar; so dependent on formula?

The reasons are…predictable. When something works, businesses tend to want more of that something. There’s the pressure to repeat and systemize success, driven by a false belief that the next breakthrough will come by recapturing that same lightning in a slightly different-colored bottle. Yet that never works. What propelled the first book was its originality…not a repeat of what had already been done.

That’s the problem with formula. The pull to the proven and predictable doesn’t lead to what’s fresh or what’s next. It leads to more of the same.

It feels low risk. But it’s actually low creativity.

When readers experience excitement over a breakout novel, they don’t really want the author to keep offering variations of that same story. Rather, they hope future books will be equally radical, fresh, unpredictable, and unique. They want to travel with that author to new places in new ways. When that fails to happen, readers eventually yawn and move on. At a certain point, they grow restless with the overly familiar…no matter how well edited the story or how famous the author. The problem isn’t the craft but the creativity.

So how do you take readers to new places with each novel?

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First, do the hard work of discovering your unique voice and style. Among other things, you must continue seeing and experiencing new things. When authors let their own lives become too predictable, the stories will follow. A problem of formulaic stories may point to a life lacking spontaneity. If your days are a bit too similar, find ways to eradicate formula from your life first.

Then – and this is key – you must stay on the journey of discovery rather than growing comfortable, setting camp, and settling into the same. As your life grows, your voice will grow. As you scale new heights, you’ll face more obstacles and more breakthroughs. Let your stories do the same. Surprise us with what’s now awakening your heart rather than give us another serving of what once did. Show us the view from the new peak you just climbed rather than write from the old one that is safe.

The cure for the common always starts with the creator.

After all, God is the original Creator and he never follows formula. Look at the wild and unexpected ways he creates in Genesis. Then look at the stories that follow in Scripture.He ushers individuals and nations into adventures as unique as they are. He comes through for them in counter intuitive, breathtaking ways, sometimes early and other times at the last second. Rather than offer formula, he offers himself. He is an ever-present, wild, loving, surprising Creator. Jesus was equally unpredictable. In the New Testament, no one knew what he would do next – yet his followers did know his voice. That’s an essential combination for storytellers.

You want readers to recognize your unique voice as you write stories where readers have no idea what you will do next.

In your life and your writing, it’s time to move from formula to freedom. If this resonates with you, I share more on the wonder of actively and intimately co-creating with God in my book, The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, and Create.

You have God. You know your voice. Now blaze a new path with the story you’re writing and the story you’re living. Then do it again next time…but in a new way.That’s how you set your stories free.

Writing tips creativity

 

READ MORE WRITING TIPS

Numbering Your Days with One Word by  Beth K. Vogt

How Christian is Your Fiction? by Dan Walsh

How to Show and When to Tell by Susan May Warren


The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, & Create

“Unique and powerful, The Story of With will take readers deep into the discovery of their own identity. “Bravo! This fascinating blend of storytelling and teaching will shift the thinking of all who take this journey.” New York Times Bestselling Author, TED DEKKER

“Through allegory and invitation, Allen Arnold ushers us into a journey of imagination, insight, wonder, and wisdom…Read The Story of With!” New York Times Bestselling Co-Author of Captivating, STASI ELDREDGE

“This is your invitation into deeper identity, intimacy, and imagination with God. Like finding the place you’ve always longed to be. The moment you finish this book, you’ll race to grab one for a friend. Highest Recommendation!” Bestselling Author of The Long Journey to Jake Palmer, JAMES L. RUBART

“Allen has written a roadmap for dreaming with God. The Story of With is a beautiful, revelatory parable, filled with wonder, mystery, and adventure.” Author of Prone to Love & Untamed, JASON CLARK

– From the Foreword –

“You are not alone. Whether you’re a free spirit, an office exec, a writer, musician, college student, or tired parent—your soul, like mine, knows life is meant to go beyond rat races and rare applause. This book speaks to that belief. And if you’re not careful, you may find tears warming your eyes as you read because finally someone is naming your weariness, your striving, your questions of why you just can’t quite make it, or the emptiness that hit because maybe you did. It is into those places The Story of With reaches—fusing allegory with application—to offer fresh perspective, restored hope, and a rebirth of creativity.”

—From the Foreword by Mary Weber, Christy & Carol Award-Winning, Scholastic Pick Author of the Storm Siren Trilogy.

Allen Arnold is the author of The Story of With, an allegory that reveals a better way to live and create through the doorway of identity, imagination, and intimacy. His mission is to help people actively pursue and transform their talent by discovering how to pursue it with God. As the founding Fiction Publisher for one of the world’s largest Christian publishing houses, Allen oversaw the development of more than five hundred novels. He knows first-hand how common it is for creators to become disheartened, overwhelmed or burnt-out–as well as what it takes to help the dreams of writers become reality. In his current role at Ransomed Heart, he oversees content from the mountains of Colorado for the ministry. Before becoming a Board Member for ACFW, he was awarded their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 for his substantial contributions to the world of Christian Fiction.

The Rhythm of Rest

by Allen Arnold, @TheStoryofWith

Is restoration a regular part of your creative process?

From my years as a publisher, speaker, and consultant to thousands of writers, I can tell you most writers don’t make time for this.

And that neglect has a toxic effect for artists and their art. Because how can anyone authentically write stories filled with life from a heart that is overwhelmed, striving, and burnt out?

A big part of the problem is how we view the normal rhythm of life. For many, it goes like this: Work hard all day. Constantly do more. Rest as little as possible. Then work hard again. Do even more. Repeat endlessly.

In other words, restoration is the inconvenient, inefficient pause that we try to minimize in order to maximize our work. We push ourselves to the limit all year, believing a week’s vacation will miraculously replenish us for the next year. That’s not a rhythm of rest. It’s a recipe for implosion.Imagine neglecting your heart for years and it finally gives out. Emergency surgery saves you. Upon release, you thank the medical team for restoring your heart as you make an appointment for the same procedure next year because success in your art takes priority over care for your heart.

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That would be insane, right? Yet that’s often how we treat our hearts.God made us with the daily need for heart and soul care. Not emergency surgery after we break down but intentional daily heart and soul care. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Did you catch that? God tells us our heart matters far more than our art. Heart and soul care is the absolute first priority because everything flows from it. So why do we tend to put it off?

Fear.

For writers, that fear usually whispers one of these thoughts to us:

  • Time is short. You are behind. Hurry or your story will never happen.
  • You are alone. You are only valued for what you do. So do more.
  • Your validation hinges on finding the magic formula for success.
  • If you take a break from writing and social media, fans will move on.
  • Caring for your heart can wait. The priority is the project at hand.

All these statements are fear-driven lies. They will not fuel your creativity.They will not produce success that matters. Left unchecked, they will ultimately cause you and your stories to implode.

Now is the time to no longer let fear overtake your calendar, overwhelm your heart, or sabotage your art. I invite you to join me on this journey. At its foundation is the belief we maximize our gifting and creativity when we put heart and soul care above everything else, including our current projects. It means infusing our days with space – no matter how brief – to actively and intimately experience God, awaken our hearts, and dream big with the One who infused us with those unique passions and dreams.

Make that the rhythm of your day and experience the joy of being a replenished, renewed, and restored storyteller.


The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, & Create

“Unique and powerful, The Story of With will take readers deep into the discovery of their own identity. “Bravo! This fascinating blend of storytelling and teaching will shift the thinking of all who take this journey.” New York Times Bestselling Author, TED DEKKER

“Through allegory and invitation, Allen Arnold ushers us into a journey of imagination, insight, wonder, and wisdom…Read The Story of With!” New York Times Bestselling Co-Author of Captivating, STASI ELDREDGE

“This is your invitation into deeper identity, intimacy, and imagination with God. Like finding the place you’ve always longed to be. The moment you finish this book, you’ll race to grab one for a friend. Highest Recommendation!” Bestselling Author of The Long Journey to Jake Palmer, JAMES L. RUBART

“Allen has written a roadmap for dreaming with God. The Story of With is a beautiful, revelatory parable, filled with wonder, mystery, and adventure.” Author of Prone to Love & Untamed, JASON CLARK

– From the Foreword –

“You are not alone. Whether you’re a free spirit, an office exec, a writer, musician, college student, or tired parent—your soul, like mine, knows life is meant to go beyond rat races and rare applause. This book speaks to that belief. And if you’re not careful, you may find tears warming your eyes as you read because finally someone is naming your weariness, your striving, your questions of why you just can’t quite make it, or the emptiness that hit because maybe you did. It is into those places The Story of With reaches—fusing allegory with application—to offer fresh perspective, restored hope, and a rebirth of creativity.”

—From the Foreword by Mary Weber, Christy & Carol Award-Winning, Scholastic Pick Author of the Storm Siren Trilogy.

Allen Arnold is the author of The Story of With, an allegory that reveals a better way to live and create through the doorway of identity, imagination, and intimacy. His mission is to help people actively pursue and transform their talent by discovering how to pursue it with God. As the founding Fiction Publisher for one of the world’s largest Christian publishing houses, Allen oversaw the development of more than five hundred novels. He knows first-hand how common it is for creators to become disheartened, overwhelmed or burnt-out–as well as what it takes to help the dreams of writers become reality. In his current role at Ransomed Heart, he oversees content from the mountains of Colorado for the ministry. Before becoming a Board Member for ACFW, he was awarded their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 for his substantial contributions to the world of Christian Fiction.

When Your Story Stalls

by Allen Arnold, @TheStoryofWith

No one likes being stuck – whether in a dead-end job, a broken-down car, or watching the spinning color wheel on a frozen computer screen.

It’s even worse when your story stalls.

I’ve experienced this as both an author and publisher. While writing The Story of With, there were numerous occasions I found myself stalled. Yet over time, I came to realize what at first seemed like irritating inconveniences were actually invitations from God into deeper waters. I had to live more before I could write more.

I also walked through this with hundreds of writers while Fiction Publisher at of one of the largest Christian publishing houses. Since then, I’ve continued to mentor writers through this issue at conferences and individual coaching appointments.

Here’s the reality. All artists have moments of staring at a blank canvas. That comes with blazing new trails and exploring new ideas. The only ones who avoid it are the artists who limit themselves to paint-by-the-number projects and the writers who find success in a story and then keep telling similar variations with each new book.

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So breathe easy. Being stuck doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. The issue is what to do once you realize this is where you are.

Many try to hunker down and push through Choose discipline. Ignore the bigger issues and just grit it out. Which is about as helpful as telling a runner with a broken leg to keep running. Or advising a driver on a cross-country trek to ignore the smoke under the hood so they don’t lose time.

In those cases, it’s clear the external breakdown requires internal exploration. Why don’t we treat our art with the same care? Instead, we’re told to press on. Hit your pre-determined word count no matter what’s going on internally. This isn’t helpful. It both prolongs and amplifies the problem.

Rather than panic and grasp for the quick fix, here’s a far more disruptive approach. Set the story you’re writing down and walk away. The story will be there when you come back.

It’s now time to shift from the story you’re writing to the story you’re living. God tells us to nurture our heart (what’s under our hood) above all else in Proverbs 4:23. That includes our writing. No great art is created without great heart. Which is why we can’t tell a better story than we’re living.

When your story is stuck, it’s often a sign that the real story – the one you’re living – has grown stagnant.

Here’s why. As writers, we spend a lot of time in our heads. Imagining scenes. Playing out ideas. Creating worlds from words. But we often spend so much time at our laptop that we forego the actual touch, smell, sounds, and wildness of the real world. Over time, that gravitational pull results in a more sedate, predictable life. The risks we take are primarily on the page. Sure, writers make things up. But as your world shrinks, so will the world of your story.

When your story stalls, the answer isn’t to ignore the warning signs. Rather than settle for less or write with a limp, this is your chance to step into more. Ask God where he is inviting you into the “new and not yet”. Start to see your life as a bigger and wilder story than the stories you’re imagining. It’s impossible to usher readers into something new when you haven’t been anywhere new recently. Spend time in nature. Learn to play the guitar. Try a new restaurant. Put yourself in a situation where you aren’t the expert. Leave behind productivity and step into an activity that requires your full presence.

Live more before you write more.

Examine your life as much as you study the beats of your novel. What is the theme of this season of your life? What do you still struggle with (perhaps secretly) now? What does your validation hinge on? Let these passions, emotions, and hurdles fuel the story you’re living and writing. Remember, the best journey you can invite readers into is the one you’re currently on.

Doing so will unstall your story, your heart, and your art.


The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, & Create

“Unique and powerful, The Story of With will take readers deep into the discovery of their own identity. “Bravo! This fascinating blend of storytelling and teaching will shift the thinking of all who take this journey.” New York Times Bestselling Author, TED DEKKER

“Through allegory and invitation, Allen Arnold ushers us into a journey of imagination, insight, wonder, and wisdom…Read The Story of With!” New York Times Bestselling Co-Author of Captivating, STASI ELDREDGE

“This is your invitation into deeper identity, intimacy, and imagination with God. Like finding the place you’ve always longed to be. The moment you finish this book, you’ll race to grab one for a friend. Highest Recommendation!” Bestselling Author of The Long Journey to Jake Palmer, JAMES L. RUBART

“Allen has written a roadmap for dreaming with God. The Story of With is a beautiful, revelatory parable, filled with wonder, mystery, and adventure.” Author of Prone to Love & Untamed, JASON CLARK

– From the Foreword –

“You are not alone. Whether you’re a free spirit, an office exec, a writer, musician, college student, or tired parent—your soul, like mine, knows life is meant to go beyond rat races and rare applause. This book speaks to that belief. And if you’re not careful, you may find tears warming your eyes as you read because finally someone is naming your weariness, your striving, your questions of why you just can’t quite make it, or the emptiness that hit because maybe you did. It is into those places The Story of With reaches—fusing allegory with application—to offer fresh perspective, restored hope, and a rebirth of creativity.”

—From the Foreword by Mary Weber, Christy & Carol Award-Winning, Scholastic Pick Author of the Storm Siren Trilogy.

Allen Arnold is the author of The Story of With, an allegory that reveals a better way to live and create through the doorway of identity, imagination, and intimacy. His mission is to help people actively pursue and transform their talent by discovering how to pursue it with God. As the founding Fiction Publisher for one of the world’s largest Christian publishing houses, Allen oversaw the development of more than five hundred novels. He knows first-hand how common it is for creators to become disheartened, overwhelmed or burnt-out–as well as what it takes to help the dreams of writers become reality. In his current role at Ransomed Heart, he oversees content from the mountains of Colorado for the ministry. Before becoming a Board Member for ACFW, he was awarded their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 for his substantial contributions to the world of Christian Fiction.

Dream Bigger Dreams

by Allen Arnold, @TheStoryofWith

The world can be hard on our dreams. What once seemed so likely, now feels partial at best. Our best -laid plans laid to rest, sacrificed for other more pressing needs.

It feels like such loss. Not just a loss of our dreams, but also of hope and heart.

I mentor a wide spectrum of writers. Some are at the start of their calling, expectant at all that awaits them. But for others, their attempts at story have been met with heartache and disillusionment. Why would I have this creative desire if this is all there is? Maybe it’s time to give up.

Perhaps you find yourself there, wondering if it’s time to move on or radically downsize your dreams.

I have much better advice.

It’s actually time to dream bigger dreams.

That may feel counter-intuitive or even cruel, especially if your earlier dreams still haven’t materialized.

But it’s actually the kindest advice I know. Because I don’t just want you to dream bigger, I want you to dream different.

I want you to dream with God this time. Which is the opposite of asking God to come along side your dreams and make them happen.

We were never meant to dream alone. When we do, we give our dreams wings way too small for the places God longs to take us.

In my book The Story of With, I describe it this way.

When we only consider the options we know are possible, we miss the higher options of God. Yet as a good Father, he invites his children into a future that surpasses human limitations or expectations. Where we see three possible options, God sees endless possibilities. But he will leave us with our three if we refuse to invite him into the process. Thankfully, he stands ready to share his higher options once we’re ready to release our best options.

Whatever we can accomplish purely in our own strength means those dreams were way too small. Pursue instead the dreams God whispers to you, the ones so big they can only be achieved together…with him.

If you’re ready to start dreaming those bigger dreams, a great place to start is with this simple yet profound question: Father, what are your dreams for me – the ones you’ve created me for and that we get to enter into together?


The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, & Create

“Unique and powerful, The Story of With will take readers deep into the discovery of their own identity. “Bravo! This fascinating blend of storytelling and teaching will shift the thinking of all who take this journey.” New York Times Bestselling Author, TED DEKKER

“Through allegory and invitation, Allen Arnold ushers us into a journey of imagination, insight, wonder, and wisdom…Read The Story of With!” New York Times Bestselling Co-Author of Captivating, STASI ELDREDGE

“This is your invitation into deeper identity, intimacy, and imagination with God. Like finding the place you’ve always longed to be. The moment you finish this book, you’ll race to grab one for a friend. Highest Recommendation!” Bestselling Author of The Long Journey to Jake Palmer, JAMES L. RUBART

“Allen has written a roadmap for dreaming with God. The Story of With is a beautiful, revelatory parable, filled with wonder, mystery, and adventure.” Author of Prone to Love & Untamed, JASON CLARK

– From the Foreword –

“You are not alone. Whether you’re a free spirit, an office exec, a writer, musician, college student, or tired parent—your soul, like mine, knows life is meant to go beyond rat races and rare applause. This book speaks to that belief. And if you’re not careful, you may find tears warming your eyes as you read because finally someone is naming your weariness, your striving, your questions of why you just can’t quite make it, or the emptiness that hit because maybe you did. It is into those places The Story of With reaches—fusing allegory with application—to offer fresh perspective, restored hope, and a rebirth of creativity.”

—From the Foreword by Mary Weber, Christy & Carol Award-Winning, Scholastic Pick Author of the Storm Siren Trilogy.

Allen Arnold is the author of The Story of With, an allegory that reveals a better way to live and create through the doorway of identity, imagination, and intimacy. His mission is to help people actively pursue and transform their talent by discovering how to pursue it with God. As the founding Fiction Publisher for one of the world’s largest Christian publishing houses, Allen oversaw the development of more than five hundred novels. He knows first-hand how common it is for creators to become disheartened, overwhelmed or burnt-out–as well as what it takes to help the dreams of writers become reality. In his current role at Ransomed Heart, he oversees content from the mountains of Colorado for the ministry. Before becoming a Board Member for ACFW, he was awarded their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 for his substantial contributions to the world of Christian Fiction.