Saving Atlan

Hi everyone,

I know I’m cutting it close again on posts this year, but I promise that at least this time, it’s going to be a little more in depth post.

So, I recently had a fairly big breakthrough on writing, which was, more or less, fixing a problem I had caused for myself over a year ago.

What happened was this:

In the book I’m working on now, there’s a character named Atlan. I’ve talked about him here before, and the main problem I was having is that, well, I was pretty scared about what people would think of him. He’s basically the heir to an empire that has enslaved another species, and while he doesn’t know that at the start of the book, he’s also not tremendously caring about it when it’s first brought to his attention. Albeit, there are reasons he starts off in denial, but still, he’s not the easiest sell as a character, and he’s the second major lead behind Mira, one of the people enslaved by his species. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about it.

Then, it happened. I got feedback about him that was pretty harsh. And because I was already worried about it, and the feedback came from someone I would consider a pretty reliable sounding board for this kind of thing, well, I basically panicked. Going back, I made him a lot more sympathetic and easily influenced from the start, took out a lot of his denial, and basically made him side with Mira right away.

Except, the problem with that is that once I started making changes, he just didn’t work anymore. All of the actions that he took that drove the plot no longer made sense, the times when he would challenge Mira and fight with her seemed wrong, and well, ultimately he didn’t have anywhere to go as a character. As soon as he was confronted, he realized he was wrong, and that was that.

That, my friends, is not a story.

Now, after more than a year of putzing around trying to make it work, I think I’ve finally managed to undo the damage, returning him, mostly, to his initial state.

Which brings me to the point of this post, which is to share the two lessons I’ve learned as a writer from this experience.

Trust your instincts

I’ve done a lot of editing on this book in the last year or so, both in having committed to using it for my first book to get published and in using it as a test/case study for my deep dive into story structure that I did this year. And the funny thing is, the more I’ve worked on it, the more that I’ve realized that what I had to start isn’t as bad as I thought. Sure, I’ve had to tweak the structure, yes, I’ve made improvements and cut a lot, but the bones of the story, the spine of the characters and the changes they go through, isn’t bad.

Author Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

And that’s true. As a writer, I’m always surprised by first drafts, especially as a pantser. For me, though I always need a beginning and to know where I’m ending, the middle is always a surprise. You’d think that would end with a hot mess. But it doesn’t, and when I edit, even if the line by line writing isn’t the smoothest or there are big loops of story that need to be trimmed or added or better woven in, I’m almost always surprised by the intuition I seem to have put into the story, specifically for the characters and where they need to go. This isn’t to brag by any means. Any writer is capable of this, and many will tell you stories of readers enforcing the same. I think it’s just to say that when you’re a writer and you tell that first draft story to yourself, I think there’s something inside you that really does know what the story is. Like Stephen King’s analogy of unearthing a dinosaur or Michaelangelo’s story about chiseling out some already pre-formed David hidden in a hunk of stone, a lot of writing or editing is, in a way, just unearthing what you already know is there, the story you’re already going to tell.

So, when you start questioning that story, whether or not it’s the right one to tell or why you wrote something that you just can’t seem to get away from, just be wary and remember that while some characters or plots may need to change, while you should be mindful of structure and story rules, and you should be open to critique, those first seeds you planted should not be ignored. Sometimes you just need to dig deeper and trust your gut.

Be sympathetic to your characters

Of the two lessons, I think this one is more important.

In sum, it’s that characters can and sometimes should be unlikable, even heroes can be unheroic, and that’s okay.

Now, I’m not talking about just your average chain-smoking, foul-mouthed anti-hero (not that I don’t love me a good anti-hero, because I do). Because, usually, anti-heroes are at least likable.

What I mean is that if you’re going to have a story about humans (or humanoids or sentient beings or whatever you have), they’re not going to be perfect. That means, like Atlan, they’re going to start off with flaws that aren’t pleasant. And, depending on the story you’re telling, that might not even change.

But that doesn’t mean, necessarily, that they’re bad.

Because that, my friends, is life.

Every person you meet is only partway through their story. And since art and story attempts to capture, in some way, life, your characters should be too.

For me, well, that means that Atlan is prejudiced. Honestly, Mira is too.

And that, to a certain non-moral degree, is okay. We’re all shaped by the histories, cultures, experiences, and God-given talents and personalities we have/have had, and this world isn’t perfect. That means the people in it aren’t going to be perfect. So if I need to face criticism or flack to give these characters the time and space they need to grow and change and get better, well, that’s fine by me. That’s a risk all writers have to take.

To be honest, I think this is a flaw in Western writing (I’m not as experienced with other culture’s writing, so don’t want to speak to that one way or another), that we always have to have the hero, that their way is always the right way, their moral the right way to live.

But life is more complicated than that, and I want to make space for that in my writing.

To quote Into the Woods, “Witches can be right, giants can be good.”

Life is more complicated than we can imagine. And learning to love people, to give them grace, in the midst of it, is one of life’s greatest journeys, goals, and callings (Mark 12:29-31).

The irony in this whole situation is that this story, as I’ve been discovering, is ultimately about grace. And I nearly destroyed the whole novel because I was afraid of writing characters who need it.

So yeah, maybe Atlan won’t hit the mark with everyone. Maybe it will even spark uncomfortable conversations, for my readers or myself.

But I’m only a human, puzzling this out like everyone else, and if that means I get it wrong or it takes time or patience or grace for me as well as the characters, well, that’s why I’m writing the book.

Thanks for reading.


So, what about you? Have you ever had times when you’ve struggled with people or characters being both bad and a little good? Read any good books that handle this well? What about struggling to forgive? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, about my writing, faith, or nerdy recommendations, please feel free to follow me here or on social (please note I’m currently on a break from these) using the links below or in the sidebar.

Writing proportions, part 3

So, as you may know, I have spent the last two posts (here and here) reflecting on where my writing time goes, why each category is enjoyable or valuable, and how much time goes into each.

Credit

This time, I’d like to do a quick summary of the numbers and dive into the question of whether or not these divisions make sense. As I said in part 1, this is partly because it’s helpful for me to think about where my time goes (both in general and in writing), and partly because as some of you are also fellow creatives, I want feedback! For any of you who have to split your time between different activities, and especially for professional creatives, how does my list compare? Are there areas for improvement? Blatant wastes? Let me know!

Anyway, the breakdown, based on 44 hours of writing time a month (and assuming I’m not currently on a social media break) is as follows….

ActivityHours/moCurrent %Ideal %
Storium1841%20%
Novel writing1227%50%
Blogging49%10%
Writing for money37%10%
Writers’ group614%5%
Marketing12%5%

Now, I’m going to be honest, I hadn’t actually added everything up until I was working on this post, and it’s a little eye opening to say the least! Clearly, I’ve got some work to do.

But it’s also interesting, because I think this is also where the real questions start to come in. For example:

  1. Are those ideal percentages even appropriate for what I’m trying to do/what I want out of my writing career?
  2. Do each of those categories belong on this list? If not, which of them should I reduce or remove?
  3. Are those numbers feasible?
  4. If they’re not, why not, and what can I do about it?
  5. Are there other categories I’m not including or considering?
  6. If not to writing or even if not to these categories, where else is my time going?

For ease of reading since this is already part 3, and since I’ve already put some time into considering questions 1, 2, 5, and 6, we’ll assume that by and large, yes, these are mostly activities I find value in and am willing to keep doing, and yes, I’m appropriately capturing most of my time.

Which leaves us with questions three and four, which ultimately come down to: now that I know how I’m spending my time, in what ways can I and do I want to change it?

Some solutions I’ve come up with are as follows.

Shift time

Looking at those top two categories, Storium and novel writing, obviously there’s a pretty severe imbalance between the two. In fact, the ratio between them is almost flipped to what I’ve marked it ideally to be.

And while I can scoop up some of that time in other areas (see idea three below), it looks like just spending less time on Storium and more on my novel writing could be the solution I need.

That being said, it’s also possible that my numbers are a little wrong. One of the main benefits of Storium that I see is the gift of being able to serve, collaborate with, and generally love on other writers. It has been an immeasurable blessing and honor to get to work with the writers I have, and if that means that ideal percentage slips up a little closer to thirty sometimes, I’m pretty comfortable with that. And, as I’ve been learning recently, Storium also works as an emotional safety valve for me, a place I can go to blow off some steam, work on a focused task, or just get some general enjoyment when I’m getting stressed, so that’s a benefit I hadn’t really considered quite as much that could influence those numbers when real life starts getting tough.

On the other hand, I’d also rather that if Storium is taking more time than usual that that time comes from somewhere else (or is added on) instead of coming out of the novel writing bucket. If anyone has any suggestions toward that end, whether in how to manage time efficiently, how to find more creative time in your day, or anything else, please let me know.

Write more

Since it’s not possible or practical to cut time on some of these activities (for example, the amount of time it takes me to give feedback or meet for writers group or my current speed for blog posts), another easy solution would simply be to write more. As I said above, I’m basing this on a (currently generous) budget of 44 writing hours a month, or 11 a week, with 1.5 hours of work over lunches throughout the week, 4.5 hours on weeknights, and three hours each on Fridays and Saturdays when I get off early/don’t work, and the assumption that I’ll probably lose about an hour somewhere in there to dawdling, conflicting events, or general life.

But, what if I worked for 30 minutes four days a week during lunch? What if I consistently worked for three hours on Mondays and Thursdays, and worked for four hours on Fridays and Saturdays? That alone would add 6 hours a week, or 24 a month! That’s about a 55% increase, which, especially if all pooled towards one or two categories, say novel writing and maybe a little more for writing for money, could make a huge difference in my proportions.

As we’re getting closer to fall, when summer hours at work end, and I’ve got some other pending life changes that may take up more of my weeknight time, I’m not sure if this is entirely plausible, but it is something to work towards, especially as we move on into winter when I don’t want to leave my house/am less busy than in summer.

Increase efficiency

This one is inspired by a couple of things. The first was when I was doing some research on appropriate rates/speeds for freelance work. The second is The Prolific Writer, a podcast I was recently listening to. Now, I’ll admit I haven’t read any of the books by the host or any of his guests yet, so I can’t speak to the proof behind any of their claims regarding the partnership between speed and quality (and in fact have stopped listening to it nearly as much because I was getting a little stressed out/comparative about their claims regarding the speed/quality of their work), but I will say that both experiences have brought up the point of writing efficiently. One of my big problems as a novel writer is that I can be really, really slow. Or rather, that because I’m afraid of failure/putting myself out there, I can be really, really good at finding ways not to make progress. And that’s not to say I never make progress, I just struggle with resistance (look up Scott Pressfield if you want to know more about that term).

But all that to say, what if I could whip up a blog post in an hour instead of two? What if I could spend less time getting distracted by the internet or checking my email and more on just doing the work? Part of the reason I’ve been listening to this podcast at all is because I am fascinated by the idea of writing faster, by how fast I really could go.

If anyone has any tips towards that end of things, please let me know.

So, those are my initial thoughts on how to step closer to where I want to go. I’m still not sure of the finer points of how to implement some of them, or that my estimations are right on any count, but I think it is helpful to at least have a ballpark, and from there to know where to go.


So, how about you? Where does your creative time go? Does it match up with where you want it to go? If so, how have you structured your life or schedule to build in the time you want or need? Which strategies helped or no, and if your current numbers don’t match your ideals, what ideas or strategies do you think would help? Thanks for reading, and if you want more content about me, my writing or personal journeys, and all things nerdy, please feel free to follow me here or on social media using the links below or in the sidebar. Just keep in mind I’m currently on a social media break, so I may not respond right away!

Writing proportions, part 2

Last post, I started the process of inventorying where my writing time goes, why each type of writing I do is enjoyable/valuable, and how much of my time goes to each type. I’ve found it a useful exercise, because it’s always helpful to know where your time is going, it’s useful to know whether or not something you’re sinking time into is worth the amount you’re sinking into it, and because it’s been a nice chance to reflect on where I want to go with writing and whether or not the activities I participate in are setting me on a path to get there.

Credit

Last time, the two buckets I covered were Storium and my novel writing.

This time, we’ll tackle this blog, writing for money, and miscellaneous activities around writing.

Blogging

Obviously, if you’re here, you know I run a personal blog. I’ve been working at it consistently for several years now, posting twice a month, and use it primarily to discuss my life, faith, writing journey, and things I’m learning, wrestling with, or enjoying along the way.

Why I like it:

  • It provides a valuable outlet for self-reflection with deadlines that ensure I am reflecting on a regular basis.
  • Because I have to write my thoughts out in a way that is comprehensible both to myself and others, it forces me to take the time to think through thoughts, ideas, or philosophies that might not otherwise be fully realized in the scattershot of my other thinking. Because I must consistently provide output, it often makes me confront or more fully consider ideas or musings that I might otherwise ignore or avoid.

Why it has value:

  • Having to provide content on a regular basis ensures that I am regularly checking in with myself, my writing, my thoughts, feelings, and/or faith. It ensures consistent forward progress, or at the very least analysis.
  • It ensures that I am writing on a regular basis, even if other avenues of writing are running dry/feeling uninspired.
  • It is an easy way for family or friends to keep up on where I am emotionally, mentally, physically, or spiritually, or to know how I am learning/growing.

Time allotment:

Depending on the post, it can take me anywhere from 1-4 hours to write a new blog post, not including supplemental time to setup any promotional tweets/posts on social media (which doesn’t take long). As I only do this twice a month, I would say that it takes about 10-20% of my writing time. As this blog is primarily for the benefit of myself and a few close others, this seems about right. There are times when I question it’s continued usefulness, but then when I think of letting it go, I wonder if I would process those emotions/thoughts as well if I didn’t post them here, or if I would lose momentum from not having deadlines, and get less certain of that decision. If anyone has thoughts about that (or thoughts on the value of this blog in general), feel free to let me know!

Writing for money

So, this category is actually fairly new to me (yay!) so data on it is a little sparse. But, suffice to say, I am now doing some freelance blogging. I am currently on a schedule of about one post every three weeks, and plan on putting any of the money I make from that into a “writing fund,” the hope being that in future I might be able to use it to pay for things like promotions, booth fees, editors, conferences, beta readers, etc.

Why I like it:

  • After 10+ years of creative writing, it’s really, really nice to be able to say I am a paid writer. And even though I won’t be spending this money on “fun” things like books or anime, the fact that I’ll be able to save for better quality things on my writing wish list (better editors, maybe cover artists, someone to do social media, etc.) is awesome!
  • The people I’m writing for are great and it’s on a topic I really enjoy, so it’s fun to get to know them and the subject more and to grow by writing about it.
  • Getting experience as a paid writer now can open up future doors. It also feels nice to feel more like a “professional.”

Why it has value:

  • Being an author is expensive, no matter how you publish, so having a nest egg to work towards that is amazing.
  • Having some professional writing chops in general has value, both in my regular day job career and as a writer.
  • I am learning a lot about the subject.
  • This gives me great experience for future freelancing.

Time allotment:

So, with the other writing on my plate, this is not something I can dedicate a ton of time to, and given that I need to rely a little on my “editor” both for ideas and approval, this seems okay. I would say about 10% of my time goes here, with opportunity for it to increase if I so choose (thankfully they have been gracious enough for me to set my own schedule). For now, I think I’ll probably leave it at around here, maybe going up to 15-20% max if they need something sooner/when I want a little extra cash flow. If anyone–especially professional creatives–have thoughts on this/how much time they spend on side gigs (of if they even categorize things like this separately than their usual work), please feel free to let me know!

Secondary tasks

So as I was looking this all over, I realized that I should probably have another bucket for all of the things related to writing that aren’t really a part of these main buckets. Since they are much smaller, I’ll try summing them up in much smaller chunks.

Writing group

This one has been on my list for many years now. With a core group of four (give or take), I typically spend several hours preparing what I’m going to share (usually my current writing project, though sometimes I have to detour if I’m wrestling through a specific plot point or run out of time) and a few hours reading through and commenting on the others’ work, plus the 3ish hour long meeting where we compare and discuss. From this perspective, not including the work I would normally spend writing the novel pieces I submit, this takes up about 15-20% of my writing time.

Social media

As you may know from a previous post, I’m currently on a break from social media, but when I am on it, most of the time I spend related to it goes into scheduling posts for either this blog, events I’ve been attending, or “shelfies,” which are pictures I take of myself with the books I’m reading as a way to promote and support other authors. Since none of that takes much time and I’m not inundated with communications from fans at any given time, I’d say I’d normally spend about 2-5% of my writing time on those tasks, which of course is now currently at 0% with the break.

Events

This category would go mostly towards conferences or classes. But since I don’t go to them very often, despite the fact they do take a lot of time, I’m not going to bother including them here.

So that’s a general summary of most of the writing tasks I do and the amount of time each one of them takes. Next time, we’ll take a look at this summary and break down the numbers!


So, how about you? Have you ever done this kind of analysis? Was it helpful? What strategies have you found to help keep you focused and efficient when tackling your personal projects? What stumbling blocks have you met on the way? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more posts about my writing, personal journey, or all things nerdy, please feel free to follow me here or on social media using the links in the sidebar or below (keeping in mind I’m currently on a social media break, so I may not respond to posts right away). Thanks for reading!

Writing proportions, part 1

Hi All,

This post is going to be more of a question than most of my posts, so if you have feedback, please let me know.

Anyway, recently I’ve been thinking a lot about about where my time goes, both in general (see my recent post on getting rid of social media) and specifically in regards to writing. I feel as though I’ve been getting more vision for my writing lately as far as what it should be and what it’s for, and the natural outpouring of those thoughts has been how to get there, as well as what to do with the writing I do now, including, for example this blog.

Whether or not I should keep it has actually been on the table.

Which is why I thought I would take some time to reflect on what buckets my different kinds of writing fall into, what I feel the current purposes of each are, and how much of my time should go into them. I thought I’d share those reflections here, both as an example of what a writing life can look like for other aspiring authors, and as an opportunity for feedback from others, both creatives and those who just have busy lives/multiple hobbies. Does it seem like I’m using my time well? If not, why not?

Since this is going to get a little long, I’m going to split it into a few posts, so get ready for some introspection and nerdy numbers for a while, folks.

Anyway, tally-ho.

Storium

I’m not going to lie, this is a decent sized bucket for me. For anyone who doesn’t know, Storium is an online collaborative storytelling platform, or for short hand, a place for online, text-based RPGs. I’ve been playing there for over five years now, mostly consistently, and I have to say of all my writing buckets, this is probably my favorite.

The reasons I like it are:

  • It’s collaborative, which is one of my passions.
  • It’s specific, with short deadlines and clear, small scale objectives.
  • It’s short term.
  • There is little to no editing.

Why it adds value:

  • It’s a chance for me to love on, work with, and support other writers.
  • It relieves stress because the weight of the story is not all on my shoulders.
  • It’s “play,” bringing in the more joyful aspects of creating without the burdens of editing or marketing.
  • It’s practice, ensuring I am consistently writing and improving my skills, even if I am not working on something directly related to my career.

Time allotment:

To be honest, I probably spend about half of my collective writing time/energy between running the story I narrate (Twice Born and Twice Born 2, if anyone is interested) and playing in the other games in which I am playable characters (full list here). Because it’s so fun and (sometimes) fast-paced, I tend to fixate on it like the weird, story junkie I am.

That being said, since I would like to do writing for a living, I think I would like to bring that percentage down closer to 20%. I see immense value in just loving the people in my community and in de-stressing with more free form creativity, especially when I get so bogged down in the weeds with other things, so I don’t want to marginalize this, but I also do need to focus more on the things that can get me closer to where I want to be as a full-time writer (also because if I were a full-time writer, I would have more time for Storium, haha).

Novels

This, obviously, is where the majority of my time should go. As I want to be an author when I grow up someday, anything related to writing or editing the novels I’ve written (or writing new ones) goes into this bucket. Pretty straight forward.

The reasons I like it are:

  • This has been a life-long passion. I love telling stories, and can’t imagine a better job than doing that.
  • It’s my calling. This is what God has called me to do.
  • Stories change lives. When I think of the best way I can serve, love, and support the people I feel called to serve, this is the best way I can imagine to do it.

Why it has value

  • See above list, and…
  • Writing takes work. If I want to reach my dream, I have to work at it, including spending the hours it takes to make books.

Time allotment:

So, it’s summer, which means I’m becoming super lazy enjoying the relaxation and opportunities that nicer weather and road conditions brings, so I’d say right now, I’m operating at about 10-20% (with Storium making up a large amount of that deficiency), but in fall and winter, I trend more towards 30-40%, 60-70% if I’m really in a good system of habits. Ideally, well, I guess I’m not really sure where I’d like this to be. I would say 50% as a ballpark, but then I wonder if that’s too little. It seems like it would be for what should probably be my main focus as a writer, but then I wonder, is that what my main focus should be after all? Is there not more benefit to say, things like Storium, or even going to events to meet and interact with my writing/reading community? And then you get into marketing and all the hoi polloi that comes with that, and it’s easy to see where my writing time could–eventually–slip away.

In any case, if anyone has feedback on that specific little chunk of time, please let me know (keeping in mind these percentages are all in relation to the time I spend strictly on writing and writing related things, not like, all of my time).

Anyway, as this post is getting a bit long, I’ll leave the other three two main buckets and a final run of the numbers for other posts. Any thoughts on managing or organizing time in the meantime appreciated!


So, how about you? Do you spend much time considering where your creative time goes and how its budgeted? Do you find it useful or does the idea of thinking about and budgeting time make your skin crawl? If you do try to partition out your time by task or type of task, what kinds of strategies or systems have you found effective for time management or does it all naturally fall into place? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content about my life, writing journey, or all things nerdy, please feel free to follow me here or on social media using the links in the sidebar or below (keeping in mind, social media and I are currently on a break, so if you message me there, I might not get it right away). Thanks for reading!

The five commandment story formula in action

Hi everyone,

Last post, I outlined a formula designed to help pinpoint the five commandments of storytelling (from Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid methodology), or the inciting incident, progressive complications (including the turning point), crisis question, climax action, and resolution of each unit of story.

The formula looks like this:

Event happens. But, complication happens. When turning point happens, character must choose between crisis question option 1 or crisis question option 2. Character chooses climax choice/action, and as a result, resolution happens.

If you want a more in depth explanation of what I mean by any of that, please just pop on over to my last post, and you’ll find all you need to know.

What I like about this strategy is that it:

  1. Separates out each commandment as a distinct action and forces you to have strong choices for each
  2. Ensures you have all five (six, really) commandments
  3. Shows the direct cause and effect chain of the story

To demonstrate what I mean, here are just some of the more common problems or pitfalls this technique can help you find, as well as examples for each.

Example 1, redundant commandments

Steven is put in prison under false accusations. But, he stumbles into an escape plot in the works by his cellmate. When his cellmate invites him to join in on the escape, he must choose between trying to escape and risking further punishment or staying put and risking facing the false charges. Steven chooses to escape, and as a result, he escapes.

The problem with this example is that there is no distinction between the climax and the resolution. The climax (character(s) acting on the choice they made in response to their crisis question), must be different than the resolution (what happens after they act). By using this equation, it’s easy to pinpoint when different pieces of the equation are functionally the same. A better resolution in this case could be “is caught by the guards,” “is separated from his cellmate within the prison’s sewage system,” or “is injured when they jump off the prison wall.” The point is that the action the character takes in the climax should have a very clear cause and effect relationship to what happens next. One should lead to the other.

Example 2, false choices

Steven develops a crush on Suzy. But, when he flirts with her, she reciprocates his affection. When Suzy asks him on a date, he must choose between saying yes or no. He chooses to say yes, and as a result, they go out on a date.

The problem with this example, besides being incredibly boring, is that there’s no crisis choice. If he says yes, he gets to go out on a date with his crush. If he says no, he doesn’t go on a date with the girl he likes. There’s no crisis there, just an obvious choice. A better option would be:

Steven develops a crush on Suzy. But, he when he flirts with her, she abruptly leaves the room. When Steven finds out Suzy is going to start working opposite shifts, Steven must choose between risking rejection and asking her out or staying quiet and missing his chance. He chooses to switch his own shifts , and as a result, they are assigned to be partners at work.

There are a couple of things I’d like to point out about this example.

First, by choosing a stronger complication, there is more tension and intrigue off the bat.

Second, the climax action choice your character makes does not have to fall neatly into one of the two obvious choices you’ve already put forth in the crisis. In fact, it can often by fun and surprising for your character to show some ingenuity and figure out a way to surpass both bad choices to get both of the goods.

Example 3, no through line

Steven’s favorite baseball team makes it to the world series. But, his trauma from his relationship with his ex-wife makes it hard for him to talk to girls. When Carl from work invites him to the first game in the series, Steven must choose between missing an important work deadline to go to the game or staying late at work and finishing the project. He chooses to go to the game and as a result, meets the love of his life.

In this example, we see events that don’t follow a clear through line of cause and effect. Is Steven’s trauma from his past marriage a valid complication within the story at large? Yes. Is it important to the story at large? Yes. Will it impact his new relationship? Of course. But does it complicate the situation in which his coworker invites him to a game and the decision regarding work vs. baseball? No. This is why it is important to keep the specific story events you choose for these equations separated out as either internal or external and to only use one per equation.

A better example focusing on the external would be:

Steven’s favorite baseball team makes it to the world series. But, a major deadline gets bumped up on one of his projects at work. When his coworker Carl asks him if he wants to go to the big game, he must choose between skipping work to go to the game or going to the game and risking consequences at work. He chooses to go to the game, and as a result gets fired from his job.

The cause and effect here is much more clear. However, it is important to note that the kind of story you’re telling, the genre, will impact what you should focus on. If you’re writing a romance, for example, a better example might be as follows.

Steven’s favorite baseball team makes it to the world series. But, the only person he knows who has tickets is his coworker Suzy. When Suzy asks him if he’d like to come, he must choose between going on the first date since his divorce and getting to see the game or protecting himself from getting hurt again and missing the game. He chooses to go to the game, and as a result, starts developing feelings for Suzy.

One other tip: As you get better at these, you can start tweaking the language/formula a bit to sound more natural. For example, using the story above, instead of saying “must choose between missing a deadline and going to the game or making the work deadline and missing the game” you could just say “choose between going to the game or staying late,” because in your story, you know the implied pros and cons of each. Likewise, if you want to take out “s/he chooses” and just put their climax action “Steven goes to the game,” or other small tweaks, that’s fine. I just find it helpful to have those bumpers in place when you’re starting out because they make everything super clear.

In any case, these are just a few things this equation can do to help you pinpoint problems in your work. Try coming up with your own examples or test the formula out on your own work, and feel free to share examples or improvements in the comments below!


So, how about you? Any formulas, tips, or tricks you use to test if your writing is working? Any examples you’ve tried using this one? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, nerdy recommendations, or stories of my writing journey, feel free to follow me here or on social media using the links below or on the sidebar. Thanks for reading!

The five commandment story formula

Hi everyone,

As you all know, I’ve been diving deep on story structure this year, especially using a methodology called The Story Grid, and today I wanted to share a tool I’ve developed to help check for the “five commandments” of story that Story Grid creator Shawn Coyne says must be in every unit of story, be it a beat, scene, sequence, or act.

As a quick review (or introduction if you aren’t familiar), the five commandments Shawn lists in his book (or website. I highly recommend both, as well as The Story Grid Podcast if you really want to dive deep) are as follows.

  1. The Inciting Incident
  2. Progressive Complication(s)
    • Turning point (the “little buddy” of commandment two)
  3. Crisis (I call it the crisis question to keep it more distinct from the climax)
  4. Climax (or climax choice or climax action)
  5. Resolution
Photo Credit

Now, at the risk of stealing too much from Shawn, I’ll just go ahead and say up front that you should really go to his resources for expertise, but in brief, those five elements according to my interpretation are…

  1. The event that kicks off the scene (or beat, sequence, act, etc. I’ll use scene here for ease of use).
  2. Something that complicates the situation for better or worse
    • A specific complication that forces the character into…
  3. A choice the character has to face which is either between two bad choices or two good choices that can’t be reconciled
  4. The action the character takes in response to that choice (whether or not it is the same action they said they would take)
  5. The resolution event of that character’s action

To help hammer this home, I’ll give an example from my featured Storium game, Twice Born. Though this sequence of scenes doesn’t happen “on screen,” it is the setup behind the main story.

  1. The prince of Valdor is fatally wounded in an assassination attempt.
  2. The royal physician manages to save the prince’s life by transferring his soul into another body.
    • The physician and prince fail to retrieve enough information about whoever ordered the assassination attempt to protect the prince from further attack.
  3. The prince must decide between telling people he is alive and getting help or hiding the fact he is alive to draw out his enemies.
  4. The prince and physician choose to hide the fact the prince is alive.
  5. The prince and physician choose a clandestine team to assist the prince on a quest to retrieve magical armor that can restore the prince to his rightful body.

Pretty straight forward, right?

Well, sort of, until you start adding sub-plots and character arcs and internal and external growth and motion. That’s when things start getting a little more tangled.

So, how does one untangle all of those knots and keep them in order? And how does one decide which story events really fit into each of those slots?

Well, in case you hadn’t guessed already, I just so happen to have developed a handy dandy formula for just such a purpose.

It looks like this:

Event happens. But, complication happens. When turning point happens, character must choose between crisis question option 1 or crisis question option 2. Character chooses climax choice/action, and as a result, resolution happens.

I’ll show you how it works below using that same Twice Born example. For ease of reading, I’ll switch the bold face to just apply to the connecting pieces of the equation rather than the events.

The prince of Valdor is fatally wounded in an assassination attempt. But, the royal physician is able to save his life by putting his soul into another body. When they fail to retrieve enough information to keep the prince safe from further attack, they must choose between revealing the prince survived so they can get help or hiding his survival to draw out their enemies. They choose to hide his survival, and as a result, form a clandestine team to help him track down magical armor that can restore him to his original body.

Now, like any other equation, if you start throwing any old thing into it, the results you get are going to be a little bit goopy, so there are a few considerations to keep in mind when using it that I’ve found helpful.

  1. Keep your internal and external genres/arcs separate. They should of course intertwine and impact each other, but trying to merge them at this stage can make things a little confusing and will make you lose your chain of cause and effect. I’ll talk about that more in my next post, but for now, just try to keep story events in each equation linked either to your external plot and your internal arc (you can actually do it for both, if you like, just keep them separate).
  2. Watch out for false choices. Shawn says false choices are when the crisis question option the character would pick is either obvious or doesn’t matter. The example he frequently gives is between making a pb&j and a turkey sandwich. Does it really matter if the character makes one or the other? Unless they or the person they are making it for are allergic to peanuts, probably not, in which case, find something else. There must be clear consequences for your choices.
  3. Focus on one character or team of characters for each equation. Which character that is can change from scene to scene/equation to equation, depending on your POV, but jumping back and forth between characters within each set will be confusing and likely break the through line of cause and effect.
  4. Be specific. While you don’t need to rewrite your entire scene, having specific story events will help you to have not only sharper, but stronger scenes. For example, you could have “beats the bad guy” for a resolution, but knowing how they do it (throw them in jail? throw them in a snake pit? humiliate them in front of their friends in a snake pit?) will help you build specificity, which will help you later on as you start thematically connecting events, fleshing out your world, etc. If you’re just starting out, haven’t quite come up with your specific answer yet, or are just outlining though, you can put in a place holder if you need to in order to keep moving.
  5. Use your answers to build characterization. Related to the last point, if you’re still wondering what your character’s major arc is, just look at what choices they make, or even what crises they face. If your character doesn’t care about love, then they probably won’t have crises concerning choosing love over money. Or, if they are given the choice between love and money, what they choose tells you a lot about that character, as well as where they are in their arc. While the primary purpose of this formula is just to check for the five commandments, it can also be used to check against character arc, to make sure that the crises and choices they are facing/making are appropriate to where they are in the story. Leaning on your genre for this really helps (e.g. if you’re writing a love story, the big choices probably won’t be related to saving a bus full of children from a giant shark).
  6. Remember to scale it. Since every unit of story, from the beat to your story at large needs to have the five commandments, try using this tool to check on different sizes of story chunks. Even if your scenes are rock solid, if they don’t fit into a story that has all five, your story won’t sing.

That, in a nutshell, is how it works. Next post, I’ll cover a few pitfalls you can run into (or, putting it optimistically, root out) with this, and how to wield this new writing weapon well.


So, how about you? Do you have any tips or tools you use for scene analysis? Different interpretations on the five commandments? My understanding of the turning point was specifically influenced by The Story Grid Podcast and supplemental explanations they had there, but it can be interpreted lots of different ways. Or, if you try the equation and have suggestions for improvements, let me know. If you’d like more content like this, writing or reading recommendations, or content about my personal writing journey, feel free to follow me here or on social media using the links in the sidebar or below. Thanks for reading!

Confidence and resistance

Hi All,

Just wanted to share something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I wrestle my way through some overarching changes I’m planning for the book I’m working on.

So, as you all know, I’ve been working my way through Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid as part of my quest to learn more about plot structure this year. Someone Shawn works with on a regular basis is Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, a main idea of which is the concept of resistance, or the power/voice/what-have-you that keeps you in doubt, keeps your butt out of your writing chair, and generally keeps you from doing the art you feel called to do. I’ll admit that I haven’t read the book yet, but I find the concept appealing–and painfully familiar.

May or may not feel like a fraud writing about this when I haven’t read it yet…

Resistance (as they’ve said on The Story Grid Podcast, so I promise I’m not completely making all of this up) takes many forms, even just as I’ve listed above. What I didn’t realize until recently, however, is that one of my most prominent forms of resistance comes in the form of a lack of confidence.

Here’s how I figured it out.

So, one of the things I’ve been working on lately has been creating a to-do list of things to change in my book. I got the idea and specific steps from The Story Grid Podcast, mostly between the episodes “First Draft is Done. Now What?” and “Planning the Second Draft.” For context, my final list is close to 400 items long, some of which are super easy to complete, some of which are just questions, and some of which raise deep story issues I’ll need to address.

But as I was wrestling through the last few stages of that process and working my way out to a higher level view again, I started, as many writers do, to have doubt about my story. Serious, despair causing doubt.

The main struts of that concern were, in no particular order, as follows:

  1. I wasn’t sure what my genres were.
  2. Kraven didn’t have any motivation.
  3. I wasn’t sure who my villain is, or, given who I thought he was, what he wanted.

As you can imagine, those weren’t exactly small issues to contend with–still aren’t, and will take some time to resolve. But knowing a few key points from Shawn, first that specificity leads to universality (the more specific we are about our own or our character’s experiences, the more ultimately relatable our stories will be), and second that we should zig when a reader expects a zag, I decided to try a new strategy, starting with Kraven.

Taking a page out of Tim Grahl’s (co-host of the podcast) book, I decided I would write out a big list of all of the different possibilities for Kraven’s character, specifically things that could serve as his “want” or desire in the book (to exact revenge, to heal, to escape, etc.), what could be his ultimate motivator (anger, compassion, grief, regret, etc.), and questions that could potentially change his character (What if he were cocky? What if he were book smart? What if he were the older brother instead of the younger? etc.).

From there, if I found anything that resonated with me or sounded interesting, I could use them to make him more unique, interesting, and most importantly, motivated. It was a fruitful exercise, and I definitely think I’ll be using it again.

However, while interesting, if I were to choose some of those paths for Kraven, it would change my book, not only with potential plot changes and character dynamics, but possibly all the way up to my theme or even genre.

Compound that with the fact that the other genre sounded like it could be more powerful, more profound, and I had a sticky problem on my hands. Change Kraven and potentially everything about the book to get a more dramatic or profound ending (with potentially steeper consequences) or stick with what I already have and be more true to what I originally wanted.

I talked to a writing friend about it, and she suggested that if the only reason I didn’t want to switch was because I was afraid of the work, that wasn’t a good enough reason. Which is true.

But the more I thought about it, the less settled I felt about making the change. Even though I knew the new version could be more ironic, more surprising, darker, and edgier, something still didn’t feel right.

I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

Eventually, I decided to ask God about it (duh, first step next time). I want to tell the stories He wants to tell, so if he told me which one He wanted, I would go with that.

The answer I got back? “You choose. What do you want to write?”

I think this response (or rather the more stringent response I’d been expecting) points to a general and strong misunderstanding I have about how God guides us that could certainly be the topic of another several blog posts, but the thing I want to highlight here is what was at the root of my problem.

Even if the other version could be edgier, could be more ironic or profound, it wasn’t what I wanted to write.

The other version was all about sacrifice, how much it can actually take to walk the narrow road. The original, the one I actually want to write–is about grace, about hope, about forgiveness and community. More saccharine as currently written? Yes. Also more honest, more True, and more to the tune of the world I want to inspire, live in, and create? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Which brings me back to my original problem, which is confidence. See, I’ve been at this for a long time, and most days (at least on the outside) it seems like I don’t have a lot to show for it. I’m still not a published novelist, I still don’t have a book ready to pitch, and when I start digging down into new things like story structure, story physics, and everything else, I feel like I don’t know anything at all.

When that’s the case, it’s tremendously easy for me to get pushed around, by resistance, by others’ opinions, even by myself. I can already think of one specific time that that’s happened with this book, and the results were near catastrophic.

But the truth is, I do know story, and I will know story, and God is going to and wants to get me there. He loves the stories I tell, and whether or not others or even I can see it, He will get them where they need to go. I mean, I wouldn’t even have them if he hadn’t given them to me, after all.

So, is there room for growth? Absolutely. Are there still major things I’ll have to fix for this book, and are those questions I listed above still for the most part unanswered? Yes.

But I know what kind of story I want to write, I know what I want to say, and I cannot hide and run away and constantly change things just because resistance or another person or even Satan himself says so.

I am not as lost as I think I am. God has given me stories, and He’s working with me to get the skills and instinct I need to write them.

I can do this.

Resistance, step aside. I have stories to write.


So, how about you? Have you ever encountered resistance in your art? What was it like? Have you ever read Steve’s book? Let me know what you think in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, please follow me here or on social media using the links in the sidebar or below. Thank you for reading!

Positive Progress

Hello everybody! Happy middle of February!

I am super excited to write this post because today I get to tell you about one of my favorite things: progress! Also, it was a beautiful, sunny, nippy day outside today, so spirits are high.

As per usual, I’ll try to chunk this out into pieces, so let’s go!

Kudos to anyone who knows who this is, btw. He’s my fav. “Leeet’s go!”

Writing

As anyone who has been keeping up with the blog knows, one of my big goals this year has been to learn a lot more about the craft of writing, specifically with plotting.

I mentioned this resource last time, but I’ll say it again, in finding The Story Grid, I have hit an absolute gold mine with this. At the risk of sounding like a fanatic (guilty), I’ll try not to talk too much about it (this post) but to say that in reading the book and checking out the podcast, I feel like I have been given a language, a way to talk about stories and writing that quantifies things I’ve felt for years only as vague intuition, and that having that language has been one of the most freeing experiences I’ve ever had as a writer and already feels like it’s helping me launch years ahead on my writing journey.

BUT, that isn’t the main point of this post. The main thing I want to mention is that, besides the progress I’ve seen just in being able to see and categorize what’s been in front of my face all these years, I’ve also been able to see how much of this I’ve already been doing right.

As a writer without a whole lot to my name in the realm of published work (this blog not withstanding, having just reached its two year anniversary of having two posts every month, and being mostly consistent for some time before that, woo woo!), it can be easy to assume that I’ve just been doing something wrong, that my writing just isn’t good enough. But in going through a lot of the steps of Story-gridding my book out, I’ve been pleased to discover that, hey, my stuff isn’t as bad as I thought!

As any artist can tell you, that is a huge relief. To know that I’ve actually been getting some things right, that I don’t have quite as far to go as I thought, is such a blessing. There’s nothing like a victory to keep you going. I thank God for all the times He’s come through with victories in the past (usually right when I was about to give up), and for the skills and time He’s given me to get as far as I’ve come. We’ll see where we go from here!

Spiritual Life

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, after a year of squidgy, lackluster squirming, another big goal of mine this year has been to grow in my faith. I’ve wanted to grow in digging up and healing old wounds, in believing His promises for me (both in God’s more global and personal promises), and in growing the love in me enough to extend it to others.

And, to my great pleasure, I have been making progress there too.

There are a couple of stages to this that have been really helpful. I outlined some of them in my original post about this, but I think it’s helpful to mention them again here, if only to talk about them from a place of greater experience than I did the first time.

First, identify the lies. One of the greatest weapons I’ve found (well, been given by my mentor, who in turn got it from God) against the enemy’s lies has simply been to know the truth. Digging into the Word (and actually thinking about it and how it’s true and what that means for my life instead of just checking a box off my to-do list) has been exceptionally helpful in this. For example, if the Bible says God loves me and that He loves mercy, then I can believe it. I don’t have to believe a lie that God is some Almighty Smite-r in the sky or that He doesn’t love to forgive me or show mercy. I can just choose to believe it.

Second, spend time with Him. One of the things that has really changed lately has been my willingness to seek out and spend time with God. As someone who is really goal-oriented, it can sometimes be hard for me to set aside time with/for God that could be “going towards something else.” But when I believe the things He says in His word, it takes away all of my excuses (work, busyness, striving, shame, fear, etc.). Not only that, but it makes me want to spend time with God (whether that’s while I’m at work, writing, hanging out, or just spending time with Him).

At my clearest, I understand that God loves me, that He’s wild about me, and that all of the things I care about, all the things I love, matter to Him and were put in me by Him. I understand that nothing could replace or be more valuable/important than spending time with Him; that letting that time heal and fill me is the only thing I really need; and that the only way to ever achieve any of the things I want in a way that will actually be satisfactory is through complete, joyful, and unrelenting surrender to Him.

Slowly, I am learning how much God loves me and how much He cares.

And when I understand that, how could I not open up? How could I not give Him my all?

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve still got a ways to go in this area. I certainly haven’t completely dug out all the junk in my basement, and I’m sure there are lies or areas of my life where I believe them that I don’t even know or recognize yet. But I can trust that God will be faithful in those areas, that He is and will be merciful as I learn to see and repent of them, and patient as I grow in sight to see them. Amen.

To a similar end, I have also been growing in joy.

Some of that, I suspect, is from an increase in sunshine and the fact that I have been gifted several large swaths of time to work on writing or working out or spending time with Him. But, I think God has also been changing my heart. Something I just read this morning was Ephesians 5:19-20 “…Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Note the phrase “for everything.” Not just blessings, not just progress, but everything, trials and struggles and annoying things or people too. I await with great anticipation the day where maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to do this. Maybe not in this lifetime, but if not, for sure the next!

Anyway, this post is starting to get a little long-winded, but I just wanted to share some of the fruit I’ve been seeing so far this year from both God’s mercies and my own co-labors with Him. I hope your year is going just as well!

Thanks for reading!


So, how about you? Have you made progress towards your New Year’s goals this year? Given up? What areas have you been growing in and where would you like to see more, goal or not? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want to see more content like this, feel free to follow me here or on social media using the links below!

Giving Kraven a voice

Hi All,

Welcome to February! I’ve been working hard on my goals for the year all January, and I am pleased to report there has been much progress! I feel more settled in myself as a person than I ever have, I’ve been tackling some deep-seated heart problems that need to go, and, most importantly for the sake of this post, I have been pushing hard on writing.

To be more specific, working from some of the writing resources I’ve been binging on lately (most specifically The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, both the book and podcast), I’ve been taking a closer look at the novel I’ve been working on the most lately, whose terrible, sure-to-change working title is Sovereign. I’ve mentioned this book before on here, as well as the character we’ll be focusing on today, Kraven.

If you’ll remember from my last post about him, Kraven has always been one of the hardest characters to place in this book. Originally a frail, weak-willed pushover, for a while I considered cutting him completely. Then, after writing several failed openings for the book, I realized I still needed him there. And, to my surprise, he pushed me. The more I wrote him, in fact, the more I realized that, though peaceful by nature, he is far from a pushover. It was like I didn’t really know him at all.

That was three years ago.

Now, working on what might be some major changes to the book, he’s pushing back again.

The main reason? He wants to have a voice.

Allow me to explain. See, Kraven has always spoken French (Fransec in the novel). I wanted him to speak a different language, I already spoke decent French, and so, there you go.

And, for a while, it’s worked pretty well. Having him speak a different language than the main protagonist Mira caused strain on their relationship (and allowed for the convenient keeping of a secret I needed to stay hush hush for a while); having him need everything translated through Atlan, who Mira hates, put strain and mistrust on them all; and in general, it was just a cool quirk/world-building thing for me to add.

Which is all still true.

The problem is, as I’ve been working through filling out my Story Grid Spreadsheet, which in simple terms is a spreadsheet designed to help me capture details about the story/individual chapters at large (to learn more about this whole Story Grid thing, I’d suggest watching the five training videos on YouTube as a primer, as well as listening to their podcast from episode one), I’ve been realizing just how much time and effort–and how many words–are wasted just on Kraven being understood.

Worse, since Kraven can’t really join the conversation unless Atlan is actively translating, as the story goes on, he stops doing anything. Sure, he interrupts the other two when they get into squabbles, takes care of the two mounts, and plays pack mule, but other than that, he doesn’t really have any agency. He doesn’t understand what’s happening around him, so, as a narrator or a side character, he becomes useless.

Obviously, something needs to change.

More obviously, he needs to speak English.

The funny thing is, as I’ve been considering this, I’ve been surprised at how little having him speak English actually changes things, or rather, how much it’s going to change things for the better. The worries I had about screwing up the beginning or him not being able to keep his secret? All phantom concerns.

My worries about bogging down the reader with page-consuming translations between French and English, confusing them with untranslated text, or having them lose interest in Kraven’s chapters because nothing happens in them? Much more real.

The big takeaway I think I’ve learned from all of this, borrowed in part from lessons I’ve been learning in Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, is don’t have quirks just for quirks’ sake.

To put it another way, make quirks serve the story, not the other way around.

This, as some highly absurd Neopets fanart of mine from middle school can attest, has been a lesson I’ve been long in learning. The reason it’s important is that adding extra junk into your book just for funsies distracts, bogs down, and confuses your reader.

Here’s an easy way to think of it: If you’re painting a landscape, adding a few birds here and there is tasteful. Adding in fourteen different kinds, each in exquisite detail–while it might be realistic to the number of bird species that actually live in that habitat–is going to be distracting.

Writing is the same way. Are there multiple languages spoken in the world in which my characters live? Of course. Does that mean I need to have someone speak in all of them? If it’s not important to the overall composition of the story, what I’m trying to get the reader to see or explore, no.

Now, of course there’s a balance to all of this. There are plenty of shows and books I can think of that have diverse and quirky casts and that do it exceptionally well (since I’m currently re-watching the series, Cowboy Bebop comes instantly to mind if you’re looking for an example). Or, if the point of the story is to explore things like differing cultures, language, or communication, keeping that element in would actually be really useful.

The main difference is that the stories on those shows aren’t having to fight around their character quirks like mine is having to work around Kraven’s French. Rather, their quirks are used to highlight what the show wants to tell, to feed into the story, message, or world, rather than obstructing it. For example, in one episode of Cowboy Bebop, it is revealed that Spike can swallow and regurgitate small items at will. This shows us something about Spike as a person, but also becomes valuable to the plot later in the episode. In this way, the quirk is both interesting and valuable, not just distracting.

Anime character Spike Spiegel swallows a cigarette on an episode of Cowboy Bebop in this gif. Later in the episode he spits it back out.
Swallowing nasty crap. It comes in handy. Also, my favorite anime character of all time.

Now of course this is still a skill I’m learning. Atlan, for example, still has a rather large trait/quirk himself that I’m still sorting out, though my hopes are high that I’ll be able to use that one to more effect/purpose than Kraven’s French.

In any case, it’s going to be a journey. I’ll try to keep you all posted on it along the way.


So, how about you? Have you ever had experience with stories that had too many or too few quirks? What about other forms of art? What about them did or didn’t you like? Do you have any examples of art that handled things like quirks, language differences, or miscommunication well? Let me know all about them in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, feel free to follow me here or on social media using the links below.

Write by faith: timing, pt. 2

Hey all,

It’s time to continue my “Write by faith” series, a series of blogs in which I talk about some of the practical repercussions or lessons I’ve learned about being a Christian artist. I’ve talked about timing before, but feel I’ve recently gotten more insight on the matter, and wanted to share.

Last time, I talked about letting God have control of my day to day schedule, trusting him that I’ll finish everything I need to finish if I let Him have control, and breaks, that I can trust God will bring things back in his timing even if I have to take a break–or extended break–from a project.

This time, I’d still like to talk about some of that, but from a different angle.

Recently I was talking to a friend about writing and some frustrations I’ve been having lately. One of the most surprising questions she asked me was: Why are you in such a hurry?

The question stopped me. I’m well aware I often put deadlines on myself that aren’t necessary, but it’s rare for me to stop and think about why.

The answers I gave were fairly common, I think. I want to help people, I want to provide something different than what’s out there, I can fill a gap, it’s what I feel called to do, etc.

And I think, by and large, those are all true. I do have big dreams for my writing and I think, most of the time and for the most part anyway, God does too (those times when I don’t being more from a lack of faith than what is actually true).

But what is easy for me to forget is that, ultimately, God doesn’t need me to do any of this.

I want to write because there are people out there that don’t know that God loves them. Because there are people who think God couldn’t love them. I write in a genre that is frequently flooded with darkness, and I want to do what I can to change that.

But, as much as I believe I can help those people, that I can spread God’s love, and that God chooses to love people primarily through other people, that still doesn’t mean that God needs me to do it.

God is huge. And powerful. And good.

If He wants those people to know Him, to know how wildly crazy about them He is, they’ll know. Even if I never publish a book or story in my life, God will make sure that His purposes are fulfilled and that, whether or not they choose to accept Him, everyone, everyone on the planet, will at some point know.

So, why is this important?

Well, mostly because it takes the pressure off. I struggle a lot with how long the writing process has taken–and is taking–for me. When I know there are millions of people out there who don’t know Jesus, when I know my writing could help with that, it’s hard not to feel like a failure, like if I were really going to succeed with this, if I were good enough or working hard enough, something would have happened already.

But that, my friends, is a devil’s trap.

Because God does have work for me, I believe He has put this work and those people in my heart, but if I don’t do it, even if I never get there, that doesn’t mean that God won’t be able to do what He wants or that those people won’t know God. Nothing I could ever do or not do could ever keep anyone else from going to heaven.

One of the turning points I had as a writer was realizing that me getting to write these stories, to participate in God’s plans, is not a necessity. It is a mercy.

God is so generous in letting me help. I act, in so many ways, like an animal, a monster. But somewhere inside all this mess, all my mistakes and flaws and sins, there’s a little girl in there, holding up messy fingers and asking to help her Daddy. And though I can’t cut straight with my scissors and add way too much paint and glitter outside the lines, He still loves to let me help. And when I’m done, when we’re finished, my life will get to go up on His fridge, a masterpiece not because I’ll have made something beautiful, but because we’ve done it together, because His mercy and grace and love have made it beautiful.

So, do I still have a lot of work I feel God wants me to do? Of course. Do I still want to help people and believe my work could do that? Yes. But I don’t have to be in such a hurry anymore. Because even if it helps them, it can’t save them (or not, if I make mistakes). That’s God’s work.

My ultimate purpose, my top goal, is to do it together. To work with excellence and patience and a willingness to bend, surrender, and grow, until something beautiful is there, something real and good that He caused to grow. I can’t do it myself. I can only do it with His help, putting in the work until His timing.

John 15:5. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.


So, what about you? Have you ever put too much pressure on yourself or your work? Struggled with the process of time? How did you overcome those issues, and where could you still grow? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, you can follow me here or on social media using the links below. Thanks for reading!