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.