Self Care with Less Self: Advice for writers & other CREATIVE Planet Earth inhabitants

So relatable! Thanks to Story Storming for posting this.

Story Storming

Have you ever noticed how we human beings are generally our most miserable when we’re focused on ourselves? My wants, my needs, my pains, my problems… For beings so dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, you’d think we might recognize the link between joy and self-forgetfulness…but no.

Plus: Easier said than done, right?

I recognize that my problems, when compared to others’, really aren’t so bad. Even so, whenever I dwell on my concerns, I can easily end up having a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

Or maybe it’s that the bad days encourage me to focus on myself (and my problems). Regardless, whether life’s circumstances force the issue—drawing my focus to the negative—or whether my downward-spiraling thoughts suction my day down the proverbial drain, I’ve come to believe that Self is at the root of all my problems.

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Don’t believe me? Take a moment to think about it.

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3 Questions on Motivation That Can Move Your Story Forward

A few weeks ago, I met a Christian Creative friend at a local coffee shop. As we settled into the conversation and polished off our Tim Horton’s coffees, she said the words that inspired this post: “I’ve gone back to a story I’ve been writing for years, but I’m stuck! I don’t know what to do.”

I like to coach writers whenever I can, so I was immediately interested in learning more about her problem. Usually, the solution is hidden in the information they share about why they’re stuck or how they got stuck. So, I listened a while and then asked: “What’s your story’s main conflict?”

When she couldn’t give a clear answer, I knew we’d found the answer to her problem. Of course, there are many reasons writers get stuck. But, for her, struggling to define the story’s conflict and, consequently, its impact on her character was a big issue. Because I was able to help her, I decided to write this post to help others facing a problem.

To do that, we’ll focus on one aspect of story-writing: conflict. More specifically, we’ll look at using your main character’s motivation to generate the conflict that will take your story to the next level. An in-depth discussion on motivation is beyond the scope of this post, but here are 3 questions that could help you figure out the right recipe for your project.  

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Is your Main Character’s motivation clear?

Essentially, motivation is what drives us from one state or circumstance to another. It can be an inner motivation (ex. A woman choosing to remain in a bad relationship for fear of being alone) or an external motivation (ex. An agoraphobic scientist chooses to leave his lab after discovering he’s the only one who can stop a pandemic).

Without motivation, our lives would be dull and very little would be accomplished; we would never change. The same goes for our characters. Without a force pushing them to or away from something, there isn’t much for them to do. Also, without conflict, a writer doesn’t have much of a story to tell—at least, not a very interesting one.

Think about your main character. You might have decided their gender, what they wear, their character traits and quirks, where they work, and where they live. All essential elements in character design. But what influences their choices? Specifically:

What does he want to stop (or have happen) at all costs?

For what or whom would he die to protect?

What is his deepest fear? Regret? Joy?

Once a writer figures out the answers to those kinds of questions, and by including them in the plot, he can develop a much more dynamic, engaging story.  

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Is your MC’s motivation threatened by the story’s crisis?

Every story needs at least one major crisis that creates stress or a turning point for its characters. Without it a story risks being boring, giving your audience few reasons to continue reading.

If you’re stuck in your creative process, or have a boring main character and don’t know how to activate him, why not attack his motivation? Doing that puts him on a collision course with the very thing he fears most. This causes tension and raises the stakes.

Now, you have a story!

Remember Frodo? In The Lord of the Rings, he was tasked to carry the One Ring to Mount Doom where it could be destroyed. He was chosen because he was meek and, therefore, more immune to its corrupting power than the others in his group. But, over time, even he fell prey to the ring—to near disastrous results. Every time he showed signs of weakness, we wondered, “Is he going to fall, too? And what happens if he does?!” That kind of hook will drive your readers to keep turning pages.

Does your MC resolve their main conflict?

When designing your crisis, keep in mind that your MC will need a proper resolution to the conflict he’ll struggle with over the course of the book. This usually means that the MC solves the problem. For example, he stopped the mega-virus from destroying the world, or kept the Holy Grail out of the wrong hands. If the MC doesn’t solve the problem, then perhaps he learns an important lesson that makes the whole experience worthwhile. For example, though he isn’t ready to do it yet, he learns that it is possible to forgive the parent who abused him in his youth. The resolution doesn’t have to result in a happy ending, as long as it satisfies the nature of the MC’s conflict.

The point is, when you get to the end of your story, your reader is going to want closure. They have spent days or weeks reading about the MC and worrying over how they would overcome their trials and tribulations. To some readers, favorite characters are like friends! Writing a fitting resolution allows your reader to end the story on a positive, satisfying note. Help them savor the reading experience. So, spend time figuring this one out. You and your readers won’t regret it.  

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Conflict is a book’s ‘spice of life’, and our characters’ motivations are the strings writers pull to generate it. When used well, the combination can inspire creativity, while elevating a mediocre story into a great one.

How about you? What story-writing tools do you use to get ‘unstuck’? Please share your experiences.

–Delia T

Author Interview: Chris McKinney and The Importance of Small Groups

Can you tell us about your professional background or training and what led you to writing?

I had four courses in college which helped me learn some writing skills. They were composition courses, literary courses, and communications courses. Some of what I learned is still useful. Some of it I’ve had to unlearn.

The much more important training I got came through working with a group of Christians on some large writing projects. One of them had been a staff writer and editor for some of the major Christian publishing houses for many years. I was blessed with the opportunity to be personally mentored by him. He edited all of my work daily for three months. We spent many hours on the phone and of course going back and forth through editing notes, chat messages, etc.

At first, I was very resistant to the process because our views were so different.

But it turned out to be a huge blessing. He was a very tactful, very patient mentor who I came to respect greatly.

Once I submitted to God’s process, it opened up something new and different in my writing. When I look back now, I’m still amazed at what God did through that process.

And before you ask, I don’t share any of it because the founder of the ministry strongly desired that all of the writing remain anonymous.

Why are small groups so important to you that you wrote a book about it?

We’ve been blessed with a thriving small group culture at Church of the Highlands. It’s a large church, so we rely on small groups to make personal connections. It’s all about walking through life together with other believers. It’s about being there for one another, helping each other, strengthening and sharpening each other. Maybe more than anything else, it’s about finding acceptance and fellowship. The enemy wants us to believe we are rejected. But, the truth is all of us are accepted, chosen, equipped, and called.

God pours out His acceptance and fellowship through tight-knit groups of believers. Jesus spent a lot of time with His small group, so it’s important. We need each other. 

I can’t think of any group within the body that needs to experience the fullness of God’s acceptance more than Christian writers.

Is that also why you became a member of Called Writers? Can you tell us about the group and its goals?

We’re just a group of Christian writers working together to see where the Lord takes us. We got together in a small group and went through the Calling All Writers! small group curriculum together. CalledWriters.com is what came out of that. The purpose of our website is to encourage, support, and inspire other Christian writers. As for our group dynamic, we help each other with our books and things like that. We have a lot of ideas for where we could go with all of it, but I think we have to stay flexible in regard to how the Lord leads us. It’s good to develop a clear vision if you can, but I’m constantly reminded that I can’t see clearly into the future. I have no idea which doors will open down the road and which ones will close. We’re very much in a “let’s try this and see where it goes” sort of phase right now.

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In your opinion, can a Christian writer ‘make it’ on their own?

Absolutely not. My pastor, Chris Hodges, says something to the effect that, “God will develop you [spiritually] when you’re on your own, but He won’t use you until you’re on a team.”

There is plenty of scripture to back up that statement. Most notably, 1 Corinthians 12:21, which says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’”

I built a chapter in my book around that scripture.

And I’ve come to see how true this principle has been in my life. Whenever I have tried to do ministry on my own, it always fell flat at best or was humiliating at worst. But whenever I’ve worked with teams, God has been able to use me to help others.

Even with something as personal as prayer, scriptures such as Matthew 18:19 make it clear that we are much more effective when we bind together.

What resources could you recommend for people to read on the subject?

I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask since I think everyone in the world should buy and read my book. I may be slightly partial. Honestly, I really do believe it turned out to be a good book, which God can use to help others discover and develop the gift of writing. It also serves the purpose of getting people on teams and helping them learn how to work together.  

Besides that, we’re doing an online study of Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace 12th Edition in our Facebook group. It’s a college textbook, so it’s not the easiest thing in the world to read. But, I’m getting some good things out of it, and some of the other Facebook group members seem to be as well.

What were your biggest challenges writing the book?

The biggest challenge was that our personal lives went completely nuts as soon as I finished the first manuscript. Around the same time, we were starting up our writing small group. One of my co-leaders and I were also starting the ministry training program at Highlands College.

A few weeks into those things kicking off, life started throwing a lot of weird challenges at my family out of nowhere.

In the midst of these challenges, I was still trying to finish revising the book. Then, the fun of learning about self-publishing and marketing began. Those ended up becoming more trials and difficulties.

But praise God, He is greater than every challenge we face. In the end, pretty much none of the things we worried and got so upset about had any lasting effect. I think maybe God was trying to teach me not to worry so much, and also to live by principle rather than pressure. That’s one of the things we’re taught at Highlands College.

What major lessons did you learn?

Don’t rush your work or give in to pressure. We should have a holy determination to complete our God-given assignment. But if we’re feeling pressured or rushed, that probably isn’t coming from the Lord.

Next, don’t take an idea or approach God gives you for one project and try to apply it to other projects where it doesn’t fit. Try to remember why and in what context He gave you the idea so that you’ll know how to apply it.

Last and most important, I would say, we shouldn’t despise advice or words spoken into our lives that come from other believers. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 tells us not to treat prophecies with contempt, but to test them and hold onto what is good. Sometimes, a personality clash can cause us to want to prove someone else wrong, even if a lot of what they’re saying is good. So, always be open to feedback, even if the delivery of the information makes it difficult.

This is an ongoing struggle for me. I find it difficult to change course after I’ve already put a lot of thought and prayer into making a decision.

And of course, none of us is perfect in this area. Sometimes, I think we will have to learn through trial and error. But we can normally save ourselves a lot of trouble by being open to feedback.

What are your future writing goals?

Interestingly enough, last Sunday’s sermon at my church was about dreaming big dreams for the Lord. My pastor encouraged us to write out our dreams. I did that, and what I got down on paper blows me away. I can share at least a few of those dreams.

Along with a team of other believers, I would like to start a Christian publishing company that publishes 1,000 different authors.

I would like to author and teach a ministry writing course.

I would like to be involved in the writing, editing, or publication of 70 small group curriculums. I see the way God gave one to me, and I think there’s got to be many more curriculums out there. They’re inside the people around me, and they’re just waiting to get out. I’ve been helped tremendously through small group curriculums, and I know a lot of other people who have as well.

Another dream I wrote down is for everyone in our small group to become bestselling authors. The idea is that I want all of us to have a lot of influence and do big things for God’s kingdom.

There are other dreams I have which would depend on God opening specific doors.

Our God is big, amazing, and powerful. We should believe Him for big, amazing, and powerful dreams.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing Christian writers today?

The same ones all Christians face. Trying to do the right thing for the right reasons. Realizing that no matter how much you want to live up to God’s standard of righteousness, you can’t. That can be tough until we remember it’s not about our righteousness anyway.

Failing. Making mistakes. Making mistakes that feel very public.

That brings me to a good point. We can’t unwrite something. Once we publish it, it’s out there beyond our control. I think that can be intimidating until we realize God is watching over us and pouring out His grace on our mistakes.

We also have to realize that we are normally our own worst critics.

I recently watched a Steven Furtick clip which helped me a lot. He said something to the effect that we should stop beating ourselves up over our mistakes because, “no one’s thinking about you anyway—they’re too busy thinking about themselves.”

I think there’s a good bit of truth in that statement. No one else thinks about my writing as much as I think about my writing. Except maybe God. He never stops thinking about us. 😊

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About Chris McKinney:

Chris McKinney has a wonderful wife and three awesome little boys! He attends Church of the Highlands, where he is also in a ministry training program. He has served in the areas of outreach, correctional facility ministry, and on the campus host team. He also leads small groups and is very passionate about helping others discover their purpose!

Professionally, he writes books, blogs, and articles for the Lord. He also helps other authors tell their stories through coaching, editing, and proofreading.

You can find his writing group on Twitter @CalledWriters. They also have a Facebook group for Christian writers here: Called Writers Facebook Group.

 

To see my mini-review on McKinney’s book, Calling All Writers! small group curriculum, click here.

— Delia

A Writer’s Idol: Meditations on Isaiah 46

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Introduction & A Word of Grace

The forty-sixth chapter of Isaiah is all about false gods and idols. But before we dig in, I feel it’s important to extend a word of grace. This devotion wasn’t born from a “do it right, no excuses” mentality, but from my own desperate struggles in creating.

You see, over the course of my writing career, from the time I began drafting scientific articles in graduate school to the present day, I’ve struggled off and on with anxiety and depression. My writing “failures” seem to be the main trigger for the acute onset of anxiety and the oppressive sense of hopelessness that lingers long afterward (without God’s help).

It is from this perspective—with my failures looming large—that I began contemplating Isaiah 46. As you read on, I hope you won’t judge yourself but instead allow God’s power and grace to sink in. Direct your focus toward Him. Not to bring judgment or guilt—but to receive the healing and wholeness only God can give.

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Isaiah 46: The Problem with Idols

An idol is anything that takes the place of God…and idols are burdensome:

1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden. The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary.

I must confess, my writing at times is an idol. I place too much importance on it. When I give anything the place of God, expecting that idol to give me value and purpose—to satisfy the deep longings of my soul—I’m setting myself up to fail. Instead of giving us strength, idols drain us. Why? Because rather than lifting us up, idols must themselves be hefted and carried.

2 They stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity.

If the truth sets us free, then lies are shackles. When anyone tries to make writing their end all be all, they become slaves to their goal. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t work hard, doing everything as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23). I am saying we can’t count on our writing to sustain us. An apple tree might sustain us, but an apple plucked from the tree never will—not for long.

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The search for meaning in “plucked apples” like wealth, work, and earthly pleasures is what led King Solomon to say, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1). The pursuit of idols brings disillusionment…while the pursuit of God Himself provides fulfillment.

3 “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. 4 Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

No idol will ever lighten our loads. Instead, they weigh us down with false hopes. Here is the truth that lofts the burdened soul from any idol’s deceit: Only God can sustain us. He is the Source of our creativity and all the beautiful gifts we might be tempted to seek in place of Him.

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Listen to the folly of trusting idols instead of God:

5 “With whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? 6 Some pour out gold from their bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, and they bow down and worship it. 7 They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer; it cannot save them from their troubles.

In this world we will have troubles. Writing a novel (or a book or a thesis) isn’t always a straight-line course from point A to point B. We start projects we never finish. We lose hope and give up (for a time). We discard flawed manuscripts only to torment ourselves over all that wasted effort (though it’s not). If progress is our god, every setback adds to the burden since idols can never move themselves. So long as we keep a tight grip on our desires, refusing to commit them to God, we alone must face the burden.

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Here’s the takeaway: We need to hold our dreams loosely and, if need be, trade our plans for God’s. Not what anyone wants to hear, I know. But consider who God is:

9 Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ 11 From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.

Whenever we commit our work to God, He establishes our plans (Proverbs 16:3)…that is to say, He’ll show us what to do. And who better to guide us in our passion for creating stories than the Author of HisStory?

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With God on our side, there’s nothing we can’t do (Philippians 4:13, etc).

About Lara

larastormhitchcock

Lara Storm Hitchcock spends at least half her life within the musty vaults of her brain, constructing new worlds and engaging fictional friends. Since winning the Illinois Young Authors Contest in middle school, she took a detour through graduate school and spent three years as an instructor of geology at the college level before completing her first unpublished novel in 2013.

Lara’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Realm Makers Consortium—when she’s not writing (or chasing an energetic toddler around the house)—she enjoys critiquing and mentoring other writers.

Connect with Lara on her blog Story Storming or on Facebook

Book Review: Calling All Writers!

Calling All Writers!: A Small Group Curriculum For Christian WritersCalling All Writers!: A Small Group Curriculum For Christian Writers by Chris McKinney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Complete Small-Group Guide to Writing

I bought this book because I wanted to gain some insights into the small-group process. The contents of the book were easy to follow since it was broken up into aptly named sections and chapters. Also, the book is not very long, so the reader gets lots of information without a massive time commitment.

The book offers suggestions for programs that simplify writing, as well as information on how to start a blog and get freelance work. It also shares tips and advice from well-known authors and writers. But best of all, McKinney always points the reader back to God as the source of all wisdom, skill, ability, and success.

I would suggest this book is part ‘how-to’ and part devotional. It’s a great tool for new and experienced writers alike.

View all my reviews

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