When people find out I’m a writer, a common question I hear is, “how do you come up with the ideas?” For most people, this seems a great mystery. Sometimes I want to mess with them and say I have visions from heaven, dreams, and daily epiphanies, but the truth is, coming up with ideas is part of the writing process. It’s a way I practice my faith. I trust that God is working through me to produce the results He wants.
We tend to think faith is for the religious, but everyone has a measure of faith. On a physical level, when we flick a light switch on, we expect light. Same with a water faucet or starting a car. Why is that? Because we believe it will happen. When it comes to God, what we believe makes an enormous difference in how we live.
The short answer to where I get my ideas is that I’ve trained my brain to search for them. Writing devotionals gave me excellent practice, but life has also provided experiences that built my confidence. Years ago, as a young teacher in a private school, part of my job description was to create bulletin boards. I didn’t see myself as imaginative, but I did it. With regular practice, I improved and learned to trust that the ideas would come. Even now, once I settle on the idea, a crucial part of the writing process is complete.
The ideas can come from past experiences. Sometimes it’s a situation, a word phrase, or a photo that keeps rolling around in my head. If I pull at the notion like a loose thread, more threads will follow. It’s a process I’ve learned to count on.
Not all ideas work. A topic can sound great, but it may be hard to develop, or there’s not a strong enough spiritual point, or my interest in the subject has waned. Writing with passion can be a double-edged sword. A saying in the writing world has loads of wisdom—“Write hot. Edit cool.” Craft knowledge and time on the task also matter.
When I sit down at my computer with a new project, I give myself permission to do it badly the first time around. The goal is just to get thoughts on the page. The way we approached our high school and college writing assignments doesn’t apply here. The “once and done” method won’t cut it. A first draft is merely a starting point.
Good writing is similar to raising good kids—it doesn’t just happen. Specific instructions floating down from heaven rarely occur, though God surprised me once in a spectacular fashion. A principal had asked me to write a one-act play and wasn’t taking no for an answer. I’d never attempted any dramatic writing and had no idea how to accomplish this feat. I went to bed thinking about it, had a dream, and woke up knowing all the play’s plot points. That’s the only time it’s EVER happened. Other authors would agree—once in a lifetime sums it up.
John Maxwell, the leadership guru, had a fan who wanted to follow him around and watch him work. Maxwell’s response was, “No, you don’t.” When the guy persisted, Maxwell explained that he sat at his computer and typed, got up for diet coke and bathroom breaks, returned to his computer, and typed again. Nothing magical about it. More like watching paint dry.
In the Bible, Hebrews 11 is known as the faith chapter. The first verse says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen….” So when I write, I trust God to give me the ideas I need and the words for whatever project I’m working on.
Every time I do this, I practice the essence of faith.