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.

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.

The Hopeful Unknown

by Allen Arnold, @TheStoryofWith

See if this imaginary conversation sounds familiar.

God: Do you want to ride with me? I’ll take you somewhere new.

Us: It depends. Where are we going?

God: You’ll see.

Us: Can you at least guarantee that I’ll be more successful going with you than staying here and doing it my way?

God: The only guarantee is we’ll experience it together. Do you want to ride?

Us: Silence. Feet shuffle. Eyes down.

Does it sound a little too close for comfort? We often want to know an outcome before we commit, but God rarely gives upfront guarantees. He seems to prefer inviting us into journeys that require us to leave our “now” for an unknown “not-yet”.

Years ago, my wife and I faced one of the biggest decisions of our lives. A cross-country opportunity was before us. Accepting it would take us from a career, church, and community we loved. And lead us into a situation where, other than the job, much was unknown. We sensed God was in it, but before committing, we drew a line in the sand. “God, give us a clear ‘yes’ if you want us to go. Or provide a solid ‘no’ and we’ll forget about it.”

Instead, God offered something far greater. Rather than an answer, he asked a simple question. I heard his voice clearly in my heart as I was praying. “Allen, do you want to ride?” His gentle tone conveyed the promise of intimacy and initiation. Had he opened the heavens and shouted “Yes, do it!” or “No, don’t go!” it would have been more clear…and less satisfying.

Instead of a quick solution, he offered himself. The offer was never to ride alone, but with him. We did. And it’s been good…and hard.

But easy and best are rarely on the same path.

God longs for those who will come alongside him and experience the active, unpredictable, intimate joy of riding together. Doing so requires us to stay close. Sometimes he’ll ride by our side. Other times, he leads the charge. He keeps us focused on what’s ahead because he knows we’ll never reach our destiny when focused on what’s behind us. Occasionally he even falls back a bit just to see if we notice. It’s how a good Father trains his Sons and Daughters to ride.

This is God’s offer to you now – both in the story you’re writing and the Story you’re living. Do you want to ride on your journey alone or with God?

One path looks easy. Take it and you’ll feel like you’re in control. You’ll let God know if you need him, but for now you’ll navigate it in your own strength. Just follow the map and it will take you to a known but common destination.

The other path has no such guarantee. It looks untamed yet holds the hint of something fantastical. This option stirs something in your heart…perhaps a long forgotten dream. Yet it’s clear that there’s no traveling this uncharted path alone.

Which will you choose – the highly probable or the seemingly impossible? Ask God and see which he’s inviting you into. Though never predictable, he often ushers us into dreams so big that we can only achieve them with him.In fact, if you can achieve your dreams without God, they are way too small.

If you’re standing between two choices now, perhaps you’re not sure which way to go. A good place to start is to ask which path will draw you closer to God. Doing so is essential.Because our art won’t transcend us until we allow God to transform us. The art always follows the heart of the artist.

Your stories will become more expansive – and less predictable – as you choose to ride with him into the hopeful unknown.

TWEETABLES

The Hopeful Unknown @TheStoryofWith on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2hPYJy9

Easy and best are rarely on the same path.~ @TheStoryofWith on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2hPYJy9

If you can achieve your dreams without God, they are way too small.~ @TheStoryofWith on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2hPYJy9

____________________

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.

Complicating Success

by Allen Arnold, @TheStoryofWith

How do you define success as an author?

Perhaps you base it on whether you regularly hit your daily word count. Or maybe success is when the publisher you’ve longed to partner with finally signs your new series. If you’re already published, then success might be hitting a bestseller list or exponentially growing your readership.

All of the above seem like logical ways to measure success. They offer tangible metrics by which we can count progress, compare results, and control our calling.

And that’s the problem.

God never meant for us to validate our calling by the number of words we churn out or the marketplace performance of our stories. These measurements aren’t necessarily bad, they just aren’t enough. They try to define the internal, holy calling God has given us in external man-made ways. And those measurements can quickly turn toxic when they distract us from the deeper definition of true success.

To get to that definition, we have to go way back. Long before we were born, God knit the love of story into our DNA. Think of it as a sort of homing device. As we grow and pursue our gifting, we are drawn to the Giver of those gifts. Our dreams and desires find their fulfillment in God.

His motive in giving each of us our specific talents isn’t primarily so we’ll be productive or famous. Here’s your gift. Now get busy making things happen. It is so our desires can find their fulfillment in Him. Productivity and efficiency aren’t what He’s most interested in. They measure the external performance but never the internal rhythm of our hearts. God doesn’t need our help as much as He wants our hearts. Whenever we focus more on our gifts than God, we miss the main invitation. Which is to pursue what we most love doing together with Him.

Don’t give the publishing industry, reviews, sales numbers, or even readers the power to validate or invalidate the calling God has given you. When you allow yourself to be defined or validated by outside metrics, you add a measurement to your calling that God neither promises nor is obligated to fulfill.

Don’t complicate it.

If you are actively and intimately creating with God, you are successful.

Yes, there may be more.

Should you grow in your craft? You should.

Could your story take the world by storm and become a bestseller? It could.

Might your story help others see God in a new light and grow closer to Him? It might.

But God isn’t all that concerned about how many readers we have or how many books we sell. If you spend 100,000 words with Him writing a story and no one else ever reads it, is that enough? If not, be careful about the other validation metrics. All external measurements for success cause us to take our cues from someone or something other than God.

Yet God is far more interested in being central to the Story you’re living and the story you’re writing than any reaction to your writing from the world, the industry, or readers.

What is created solely out of your own strength will be limited by your blind spots and weaknesses. But what you co-create with God will have the spark of eternity. Those stories, born through intimacy and co-creation, will transcend you and transform you in ways that are impossible to measure.

That is success. Plain and simple.

TWEETABLES
Complicating Success by @TheStoryofWith on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2gsDWjq
How do you define success as an author? @TheStoryofWith on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2gsDWjq

What you co-create with God will have the spark of eternity. @TheStoryofWith on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2gsDWjq

____________________

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.