Your Protag’s Biggest Problem

by Allen Arnold, @TheStoryofWith

Your protagonist’s biggest problem isn’t the antagonist. It’s you.

As we breathe life into worlds and characters, they can’t help but possess our DNA. It’s unavoidable. What’s created in our own strength will include our weaknesses.

In a mythic sense, where we haven’t gone, our creations will stumble. Your protagonist’s vision will be clouded by your blind spots. If you strive for external validation, so will they. Their faith can’t transcend your experiences with God. Their courage will be diluted by your fears. And that tendency to be easily overwhelmed or controlling? Yep, your protagonist inherited that from you as well.

Sure, we can try to untether them from our issues. As novelists, we make things up all the time. But there’s a difference between making things up and faking it. Within our made-up world, we need to take readers on an authentic journey that mirrors the one we’re going through. The themes of our novels should be themes we are navigating in real life with God. In fact, I believe the most unforgettable stories hold within them the scars, struggles, and discoveries of an author’s own Story.

Otherwise, we’re asking our characters to live more powerful lives than we have. And were expecting our readers to dive into oceans while we remain safely on shore. But it doesn’t work that way. We end up passing our limitations forward like a baton to our waiting protagonists and readers, expecting them to run with a freedom we’ve yet to experience.

No matter how powerful your imagination, you really can’t tell a better story than you’re living. And your characters can’t know deeper faith, love, or adventure than you’ve risked and tasted in your own life. They can’t know God deeper than you do. And their definition of victory can’t exceed the definition you’re living by.

We don’t need stories that teach readers a lesson from us. We need stories that invite readers on a journey of discovery with us. What our protagonists and readers crave are stories with the spark of eternity in them. That happens as we co-create with God from a deep place of identity, intimacy, and imagination. Only then will our stories transcend us and the moment in time they were created.

We long for our art to take us to new and uncharted places but the blank page looks back at us and says, “No, you must go there first.”

TWEETABLES


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. 

Doing Less & Becoming More

by Allen Arnold, @TheStoryofWith
The more you do, the more successful you’ll be.

That maxim seems true, but it’s actually a lie that erodes our identity and creativity.

This isn’t a post about being unproductive. I’m all for getting things done. It’s the motive of striving and constantly doing more that I want to discuss.


We’re regularly encouraged to spend more time on social media, grow our platform, conduct more interviews, increase our daily word count, garner more reviews, and chase the latest trends. Why? Because if you can just master enough tips and do more each day, you’ll eventually experience success in your writing career, right?

Well, not really.

It’s not that these particular things are bad or good – most are neutral and some are needed. But we must free ourselves from the underlying assumption that our calling is all – or mostly – up to our efforts, connections, and mastery of the latest techniques. If we truly believe that it’s all up to us, we’re living like orphans who try to do things in their own strength for God rather than with him. Soon we find ourselves on a treadmill of our own making, always running but never quite arriving.Success is always just around the corner.

But there is no secret elixir for success. It won’t come from doing more or chasing after every new “five-step” formula. Doing so will leave you exhausted. And there’s no correlation between good stories and exhausted writers.In fact, the world doesn’t need more stories from worried and weary storytellers.

I believe the way an artist achieves true and lasting success begins with how they create. If they enter into the creative process and actively pursue their talent with God – at his pace and rhythm – they are successful. If their motive is Creative Fellowship with God, that transforms every other aspect of their writing. In that sense, it’s the opposite of doing more. Presence comes before productivity. The illusion of control is relinquished for the intimacy of relationship. It’s stepping into a larger story with God that then enlarges the story you are writing with God.

When artists choose being above doing, they still get things done. But they do so from a foundation of freedom. They’re no longer looking for validation from readers or sales. They know it isn’t all up to them. They aren’t orphans proving their worth through external measurements but sons and daughter son the playground of ideas, creating from a place of deep identity, intimacy, and imagination with God.

Make this shift and the old external measurements of success lose their power to validate or invalidate you. You are a son or daughter of the Father who writes rather than a writer who does things for God. Your identity is based first in who you are rather than what you do…and that can never be lost or stolen.

It’s true that the world doesn’t need more stories from exhausted, striving authors. But it desperately needs more stories with the glow of those who have spent time creating with the Creator.

Be that writer and tell those stories. It begins by doing less and becoming more.

TWEETABLES

Doing Less & Becoming More by Allen Arnold (Click to Tweet)

It’s actually a lie that erodes our identity and creativity.~ Allen Arnold (Click to Tweet)

The world doesn’t need more stories from exhausted, striving authors.~ Allen Arnold (Click to Tweet)

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.

A Story’s Sacred Circle

by Allen Arnold

We all long for our stories to make an eternal impact. Yet so few books seem to shine for more than a moment.

I believe what’s missing is an eternal spark. And that only comes from the glow of those writers who have spent time with the Creator. Only what is co-created with God has that brilliance.

I call that process entering into a Story’s Sacred Circle. Let me explain. Picture a bulls-eye with concentric color rings that grow outward from the center. It’s the kind you’ve thrown darts at as a kid or maybe shot arrows at when you were older. Everyone aims for the small red circle in the middle. Sure, it’s easier to hit the wider circles. But you don’t get many points when you’re far from the center.
It’s the same with the Sacred Circle. In this model, the small center circle is defined by one word: WITH. Creating with God is the bulls-eye – the sweet spot that changes everything. This circle represents the heart of Creative Fellowship. It is the place where you and God co-create together. Check out my blog post called It’s Not Up To You for more on what this active, intimate process involves.

Proceeding outward, the next circle is labeled:TRUSTED BOHEMIANS. These are the rare ones who pour into you during the creative process. They aren’t a substitute for creating with God, but they are the second ring of Creative Fellowship. These people understand your art and your heart. And they make both better by their presence.

Continuing outward, the third circle is: HUNGRY READERS. What you’ve written while in the first circle with God and honed while in the second circle with Fellow Bohemians now ripples out to those who need this story. These are the hungry, not the critics. But remember, the primary reason for creating with God is to experience relational intimacy as you co-create with him. The main goal isn’t to write something for God or for others. It is to create with God. It’s counter intuitive, but you actually help these hungry readers most by focusing on God more than them as you write. That’s why they are in this circle rather than the bulls-eye.

The final ring of the Story’s Sacred Circle is: DISTRACTION / REACTION. While you can’t avoid this territory completely, it is the circle where you most need to guard your heart. This is a place where outside voices will try to distract, define, or deflate you. The longer you stay, the more overwhelmed you will get from trying to achieve success in your own strength or looking to external metrics to validate your art. When here, you must remember your truest identity and calling. Otherwise, this circle will try to name you. And only God has the right to name his children. Just as in darts, this circle is the easiest to hit – and the least worth your time.

The goal is to start and stay in the center circle of WITH. You don’t just need to stay there when you’re writing your book. Stay there after you’ve released the book and all the doubts and fears and social media questions come at you. That’s why it’s so important once you finish your story to turn to God for the First Feedback.


So many writers approach the Sacred Circle backwards. They start at the outer ring, hoping it can answer their questions about success, identity and future story ideas. Then they move inward to the next circle, wanting readers to validate them. This inverse approach causes authors to ride the waves of public opinion rather than stand firm in their identity as Sons and Daughters co-creating with their Father.

By the time they finally make it to the center of this inverted Circle, they will find it hollow. The center is known as WITHOUT because their creative process has been limited to their own strength and ideas. In this model, God is more of an afterthought. The author may hope that God helps them meet the manuscript due date or that he blesses the story that’s been written without his intimate involvement. But that’s really not Creative Fellowship. And this approach won’t lead to stories with an eternal spark – because that spark can only come from him. As hard as it may be to fathom, God’s desire is to spend time co-creating with you rather than nod in approval at a finished work that you did alone.

If you feel you’ve been running in circles, it’s time to step inside your Story’s Sacred Circle. And remember, the goal is to stay in the center.

TWEETABLES

God’s desire is to co-create with you, not nod at work you did alone. ~ Allen Arnold (Click to Tweet)


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.

Write to Discover

by Allen Arnold

Does your writing reflect a journey of discovery?

Before you can take readers to new places, you must first travel roads you’ve never been on. Doing so will force you out of your comfort zone to wrestle with the unknown, face your fears, and discover God in fresh ways. You become the traveler rather than the master guide. The process is risky and messy, but it’s the only way to see, hear, and experience the new.
Yet too often, novelists cover the same ground. When something works, it’s tempting to hope lightning will strike again if we only duplicate the process. But at that point,we’re repeating a recipe rather than creating a dish the world has never tasted.

Some authors are convinced their readers only want more of the same. So they reluctantly quit blazing new trails for the sake of brand consistency. Yet it was the freshness of their first stories that caused readers to follow them in the first place – not some formula or demand for familiarity. Over time, those very readers will grow bored and shift to other stories.

At a recent writer’s conference, Ted Dekker gave the audience this transformative challenge: Don’t write to teach. Write to discover.

That’s it! Your readers don’t want you to be comfortable in the creative process. Stop trying to master the process and start exploring. Forget the cozy chair and seek disruption. Readers want to be invited somewhere new by storytellers going new places. They prefer trailblazers to teachers. Stretch yourself. Then stretch your readers.

God’s calls his sons and daughters to step out of the boat when all the eye can see is water. It feels counter intuitive. Fear will try to get in. But walking on water depends far more on your faith than your feet. You have to risk that first step with no guarantees other than God.

Ultimately, what you create is an outer expression of your inner journey. When the internal journey of discovery stops, the creative process withers. So dive wholeheartedly into the unknown. Being in over your head is God’s way of taking you, your writing, and your readers to deeper places.

TWEETABLES


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.