God’s primary desire isn’t that we write about Him. Or even for Him. It is that we write with Him.
As founder and former Publisher of Thomas Nelson Fiction, Allen Arnold was a strong advocate not just for story, but for the storyteller. He has worked with hundreds of authors and published more than 500 novels in his 20 years in Christian publishing.
Allen’s personal ministry is now to nurture the heart and spirituality of the storyteller. More recently, as Director of Content and Resources at Ransomed Heart Ministry, he has been able to expand his reach to help many others—besides just authors—get closer to God and live the story of their life with an awakened heart.
But he still has a special place in his own heart for the storyteller. That’s why he’s such a popular presenter at Christian writing conferences, and part of the reason he received the ACFW Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
Allen will be presenting a five-part continuing session at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference on May 14 through 17 on The Heart of the Storyteller. He has penciled in the 2015 Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference. I caught up with him to ask him some questions about this session and about his passion for nurturing the hearts of others.
Question: Isn’t it easy to lose track of God in the hustle and bustle of trying to do everything we are told we need to do? Is your session going to help us understand how to keep from getting burnout and still find time to spend with God?
An author recently told me, “It’s easy to sometimes forget why I’m writing in the first place.” And that is so true. We lose ourselves in the blur of deadlines, social media, and daily word counts. We turn to productivity while God longs for our presence. We put our heads down and focus on getting things done for God…instead of realizing we are on a creative playground with God. We ask God to bless our time writing instead of asking what His plans are for our day. We get busy doing rather than being. And when we look up, we find ourselves in a desert. In my sessions, I’ll identify the main “creative deserts” and offer tangible ways to avoid or escape them.
Question: Do you think it’s the enemy that distracts us so much with the busyness of writing and marketing? Or do you think we do it to ourselves?
The answer is both. We have an enemy of the story we are writing AND the story we are living. His goal is not distraction as much as destruction. I believe the enemy has a unique hatred for creative…and will spend time taking readers into why this is and how to overcome his very specific plans to destroy our creativity and our calling. The second element is our own motives. It is easy to make our stories and our success an idol. If that sounds a bit strong, realize this. Whatever we turn to for life is what we worship. So if your validation hinges on success as a writer…you may be more focused on your calling than the One who called you into it. During my sessions, I’ll share how to make your writing an offering – and how to resist the enemy. It’s a two-fold approach.
Question: The nature of writing usually makes it a solitary—and isolating—task. Why can this be dangerous, and what can we do to avoid any pitfalls?
We write in isolation – but we never have to write alone. Because our gifting came with an invitation from God. Not just to create. But to create together. God gave you this talent so you can spend it with Him…as a way to grow closer together. But something happens along the way. The gift overshadows the giver – and aloneness replaces fellowship. Remember this – God’s primary desire isn’t that we write about Him. Or even for Him. It is that we write with Him. When writers discover this truth and learn how to live it, they will never write alone again. That is the whole focus of being in Creative Fellowship with God.
Question: In the description of your continuing session, it talks about discovering “how to live free, write free.” What exactly does that mean?
This phrase is a short-hand way of reminding writers that Jesus came to set us free…and when we are living in His freedom, we can then create in total freedom. Imagine what better stories we can tell when we are writing from an awakened heart and walking with Him through the entire creative process. It is transformational, but it starts with our lives before it can transform our writing.
Question: The novel I’m working on is fiction, but my life is real. How can getting in touch with my own story—my own life—improve the story that I want to write?
Here is the bottom line – you can’t write a better story than you are living. So to write really powerful stories, you first have to live a really powerful life. Knowing your personal story (it didn’t just begin last week or even last year) allows you to tell better stories. There’s got to be time built into your life for you to be aware of what’s really going on in your heart. Artists are gifted at “seeing the unseen” and then creating. Yet they often overlook their own spiritual health. Writers can focus more on imagined stories than the rhythms of their own life story. We’ll dive into this more – but it’s impossible to offer words with life when your own life is stressed out, dried up, and empty. The discovery is how to live and create from an awakened heart.
Question: Is it more than just a coincidence that you have such a passion for the writer’s heart and the ministry that you’ve been drawn to deals with restoring and nourishing the hearts of God’s people?
Great question! There are no coincidences for those who walk with God. He has invited me into a ministry in Colorado (Ransomed Heart) where the focus is healing broken hearts and setting people free. If that phrase sounds familiar, it is from a passage in Isaiah 61 that Jesus quoted to start His ministry. Two years ago, God told me that my new ministry was going after the hearts of writers. I wish I had done that while I was in publishing for 20 years. I did my best as a publisher to help authors write the best stories and then get them to the broadest possible audience. But I didn’t know how to go after their hearts…probably because I didn’t even know fully how to pursue my own heart at that time. So while being a part of the Ransomed Heart ministry is my full-time role (and I love it!), I also speak and meet with hundreds of writers a year to help them write with God from an awakened heart. It brings me incredible joy to help writers find a way out of the creative desert and into the wildness of creating with God.
Question: What are some of the things you do to revitalize your own heart? How do you get in touch with who God created you to be?
If I don’t spend regular, intimate time with God – I quickly end up in a dry and dusty place. For too long, I thought productivity was the secret to my happiness – the more I got done, the happier I was. But I’ve discovered that God always longs for our presence before our productivity. So what revitalizes my heart is savoring God by just being with Him, reading (for pleasure), playing (with my kids), dreaming big with my wife, and time at the gym. Oh, and salsa. I love salsa. ; ).
Allen, to be quite honest, I didn’t think I was “in need” of your session—I thought I was in touch with my heart and that I had most things pretty much in balance. But after reading a few things short things you’ve written and listening to two online interviews you gave, I realize how far I am from what you are talking about. Your passion for the writer’s spirituality made me realize how much my writing has been becoming a business, and not a calling. I wonder how many other writers, like me, don’t realize how much they need your message. I’m including a link to a PDF of the Keynote you gave at the Christy Awards in 2012. http://www.christyawards.com/ca_new/images/stories/client_pdf/CAPTURED_BY_STORYed.pdf
I think it will inspire a lot of other writers to remember why they are writing, and to actively partner with the One who called them to write.
Thank you, Donna and Allen, for this thought-provoking interview. Allen welcomes your comments on this blog.