Out of the Creative Desert ~ by Allen Arnold

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.
~ Out of the Creative Desert ~
I was in a
Mexican restaurant, savoring the salsa when I saw it.
The children’s menu
was a coloring page with illustrations of scrub brush, cactus, and sand. And
this headline:

“Draw Yourself in the Desert”
I did a double
What kind of
depressing invitation is that?
Who would spend
creative energy to purposely draw themselves into such a dry and desolate
Then it hit me.
We do.
Our imagination
is stirred by an idea and we set out to chase it on our own…because, well,
creating is mostly done in isolation, right? We get busy and do. Then ask God
to bless it.

We forget that the process of creation is actually an invitation
into fellowship. An invitation for us not to simply write about God or even for him. But with him. Together.
So we spend hours,
days and months on our solo journey. And then we look
up to find ourselves lost, parched and alone. We’ve drawn
ourselves into a desert. Thankfully, God draws
as well. He is constantly
drawing us out of the desert… to
I live in
Colorado – home of many famous mountain peaks that are at least 14,000 feet
high. I climbed one a few years ago and can definitively tell you – it’s
impossible to accidentally climb up a mountain. It requires intention.
But it’s easy to
unintentionally find yourself in the desert…especially these creative dead
#1: Desert of
Lost Dreams
This is the
desert for those unable to gain traction with their stories. It is a dry land
of frustration, doubt, envy and weariness. In the blistering sun, it is easy to
believe you are alone and forgotten…that all hope is lost. So remember – God
loves finding what was once lost. Especially when what you’ve lost is his original
dream for you.
#2: Desert of Striving
It begins with this
subtle agreement: the success of my calling is all up to me. Industry experts
state you’ll never be a success unless you become a marketing expert, master
countless tips and techniques, and transform into a social media guru. In
essence, spend less time creating with God and more time making it happen. But
these are never the main things. If God has called you to write…do you really
think it all hinges on your continual self-promotion? Create with God and then
watch as he prepares the way – a way that is never paved with striving, fear or
#3: Desert of
You aren’t
promised endless stories…or a career of steadily increasing sales. Does that
make you uneasy? Feel negative? I’ve seen many writers with more books on their
contract than stories God has given them. Many books written to hit a deadline
more than out of desire. It’s a nightmare to wake up and realize your next book
is due in 60 days and you have no idea what to write. When creating, don’t
commit to more than God has committed to you. Live expectantly – without
expectations – to avoid this desert. 
Whether the path
that drew you into the desert was one of immense success, failure or simply striving,
the end result is you find yourself weary in the burning sand.
And when you’re
in the desert, the sense of isolation only intensifies. Desperation sets in.
Some give up their calling. Others scribble a story identical to what they’ve
written many times before…a safe formula. And many just hunker down, hit
their daily word count and try to make it out alive.
But the world
doesn’t need more of those books.
A friend of mine
was recently thirty days from her manuscript deadline. She had already been
given multiple extensions and was filled with stress and worry. There was
little joy or creative fellowship. As gently as possible, I told her I didn’t
think I wanted to read her book when it was done. I couldn’t imagine spending
300 pages in a book born under such a stressful, cold, rushed manner. How could
the words on a page possibly bring life that she herself didn’t seem to have?
But there is a
way out of the desert…a way back to life. 
An author
recently said, “It’s sometimes easy to forget why you’re writing in the first
So we must
This story is my
touchstone that reminds me
why we do what
we do.
I have a big
And I have an
eight-year-old son who loves to
ride with me.
He doesn’t sit
in the back seat – where there’s
plenty of room.
He doesn’t even sit
in the passenger seat.
No, he pulls
himself in and immediately flips up the console / drink holder between the two
main front seats.
He slides over
to sit right next to me. Leg touching
leg. Arm touching arm.
It’s funny…he
doesn’t care where we go. Doesn’t even
He’s there for
the shared adventure. He knows I’m the driver. So he doesn’t ask if I have
enough gas. Or know the directions. Or remembered my wallet.
He is content to
be with me and ride.
God has a much
bigger truck. And he’s here to
take you out of the desert. Please don’t try
to grab the wheel. You don’t know
the best way home.
Just remember.
The reason God
invited you into this calling is not primarily about your talent or because the
world needs more stories.
It is so you can
play together, ride together, create together. So you can walk in the garden
and experience intimacy and awe with your Father.
The Creator and
his creation creating together.
Jump in his
truck, slide in close and enjoy the ride as he draws you
out of the desert and into your best
story yet.
The story you
come up with together.
The story of
creative fellowship. 

Drum Roll Please …

Novel Rocket proudly announces the newest members of the
website’s team:
Allen Arnold
spent 20 years in publishing
overseeing the
development of more than 500 novels as founder and Publisher of Thomas Nelson
Fiction. He now leads Content & Resources for Ransomed Heart Ministries. Allen
is passionate about helping storytellers write from an awakened heart.

Alton Gansky is the Angel Award-winning,
Christy Award-nominated author of more than three dozen books. He is the co-director
of the premier Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers conference.

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling novelist
known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense®. These harrowing crime thrillers
have earned her the tagline “Don’t forget to b r e a t h e . . .“® She’s
also known for her book on fiction-writing techniques, Getting Into
Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors

Lisa Samson, author of Christy
award-winner, Songbird,
is known for excellence in writing as well as her artistic bent, but more than anything, perhaps, the name Samson brings to mind
authentic stories that makes you think. Once asked why she writes, she said,
“So people will know they’re not alone.” Dealing with difficult
issues has also given Samson a reputation for courage in her writing.

Thomas Smith
an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and
essayist. In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning
writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for
Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show.

S.T.O.R.Y. – Five Factors Of Great Novels

Allen Arnold loves great stories, passionate
conversations and authentic living. As Senior Vice-President and Fiction
Publisher at Thomas Nelson, he spends his days acquiring, reading and
publishing world-class adult and young adult fiction written from a Christian
worldview. Allen’s favorite way to spend the day is with his family –
preferably with a C.S. Lewis book or Superman comic close at hand.
S.T.O.R.Y. – Five Factors Of Great Novels
Used with permission

You have so many
considerations as you craft your novel. My goal isn’t to add to the list – but
to raise five to the forefront. For our Fiction team, these are key elements we
discuss as we review proposals. Does your novel excel at all five?
 S = SHOW.
Show rather than tell. Don’t spell out what’s playing out. The joy of discovery
and savoring is depleted for the reader when themes are spoon-fed and
characters tell every thought rather than showing through their actions. It’s
story versus sermon. Trust readers to get the nuances of your story.
best stories leaves readers in a different place internally than they were on
page one. Does your novel call readers to something more, give them a hunger
for something greater? Christian Fiction, especially, should contain the major
theme of hope.
Chasing a trend or trying to write like your favorite author never delivers the
anticipated results. Because the market already has that voice or that novel.
Only you can tell the stories God has given you. Rather than do a Christian
version of what is hot in pop culture, write with such originality that the
world wants to make a secular version of your Christian Fiction novel.
Through focus groups, Christian Fiction readers tell us they don’t want sappy
(their word) stories. Regardless of the genre, they crave stories with real
emotion, real consequences, real outcomes. But don’t confuse authentic with
gratuitous. Real doesn’t mean scenes of over-the-top language or violence. The
Bible is filled with real stories that honor God without being gratuitous.
a reader finishes the last sentence of your novel, the worst thing they can do
is toss it on the shelf and move on. That’s a symbolic yawn. How do you move
readers from a yawn to a yearning? Yearning to tell others about this story?
Yearning for your next novel?
These aren’t the only factors to a great
novel.  But they’re five big ones worth pondering.

Catching the Publisher’s Eye

Allen Arnold loves great stories, passionate
conversations and authentic living. As Senior Vice-President and Fiction
Publisher at Thomas Nelson, he spends his days acquiring, reading and
publishing world-class adult and young adult fiction written from a Christian
worldview. Allen’s favorite way to spend the day is with his family –
preferably with a C.S. Lewis book or Superman comic close at hand.
Catching the Publisher’s Eye (used with permission)
How can an aspiring Christian Fiction author best catch
the attention of a publisher?
Yes, a well-written proposal is important. There are
many sites that share how to create one. But there are even more essential
traits that catch my eye. I’m drawn to writers who:
Create stories with intoxicating premises, brimming with
rich characters and buzz-worthy plots.  ”Stirred” and written well.
Demonstrate their ability to sell ideas by first selling
a book agent. If an agent isn’t interested, ask why and keep polishing.
Succinctly articulate their story in a fresh, memorable
way. If you can’t – no one else can.  Nor will they want to.
Make rooms brighter with their personality and passion.
Otherwise, the relationship isn’t fun. And life is too short for that.
Tell their personal story as powerfully as the story
they’re writing. Because tribes (fans) are most drawn to those who can.
Listen well. The amount of time you listen vs. talk is
your learning bandwidth. And you never learn while talking.
Seek long-term consistency in their Author Brand.
Writers tire of a successful brand far sooner than fans. Stay the course.
Engage in blue-sky thinking with the publishing team
about how to make their stories bigger, better, more. Always ask, “what  
Celebrate victories rather than camping in the land of
what didn’t go right.
Understand the definition of success for their story –
but don’t base their identity on it.
Pursue their calling by pursuing first things first.
Love God. Love others. Then write story. As you’re transformed, the story will
Savor the journey. No one is guaranteed a bestseller or
a next story. Remember what we do will echo in eternity. Echo well.
Yes, many of the above are more inner than outer qualities. More
about the person than the story. Yet these are the qualities that catch my eye
as a publisher. Because inevitably what’s on the inside shines through to the
story. May you shine brightly as you pursue this high calling.