How to Get Ideas: Sermons

Writers are always asked how they come up with their ideas, but it’s often hard to know exactly where a story idea comes from. Ideas seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, and they sometimes come when you’re not even trying. But for those who are newer to writing and for those who are having trouble figuring out what to write next, ideas can be hard to find and you might have to force yourself to come up with them.

That’s what this blog series is all about—how to get ideas and how to develop stories from those ideas. So far I’ve written about what if questions, titles, prompts, and first lines. Today I’m going to take a look at sermons.

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How to Get Ideas: Sermons

The Bible is full of so many incredible stories, and many writers have drawn inspiration from it. Some of my favorite books inspired by the Bible have been C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series and Kiera Cass’s The Selection series. The Bible can be an amazing resource to find inspiration for your writing.

But I’m also inspired every week by the sermons I hear in church.

If you go to church regularly (and if your pastor is as awesome as mine), every week you get to hear amazing sermons that explain the Bible and share incredible stories. Sermons expand on different stories in the Bible, then connect them to your life and something you can be doing to follow Christ.

I don’t want to be a Christian fiction writer, but I do want my faith to infuse everything I do and I want to use my writing as a way to serve the Lord. To serve God with my writing without making my stories overtly about God or Christianity, I like to take themes from the Bible or sermons and infuse them into my stories in a more subtle way.

For example, the book I had been working on for the past couple of years was a science fiction book set in a world without written language. The whole book stemmed from my what if question of What if there was no written language? I was really intrigued by this question. However, the story just lacked passion for me because, while I was growing in my faith every day, I couldn’t find God in my story.

That changed when I heard a sermon about making your life about God, not you. My pastor talked about how we live to serve God, nothing more. And it’s not about you but it starts with you. And suddenly it clicked: my two very selfish narrators who only wanted to help themselves and not their world were going to learn this lesson in my book. And by doing that, even without mentioning God, my book was going to share my faith.

I’m always going to infuse my faith into everything I write because I want to serve God with my writing. And the sermons I hear every week in church are a well of ideas to draw from.

You can use things you hear in sermons to supplement your ideas and help you show God in your writing, like I did, or you can use the things you hear to spark new ideas. The best part is that you get to hear a new sermon each week, and so there will always be something new to draw from.

How do you infuse your faith into your writing? Do you get ideas from the sermons you hear?

Celebrations and Special Places

This past month has been full of celebrations. My first niece was born, and after scary complications she is home and thriving. My husband finished his MBA at Wright State. And we celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary.

Both my husband and I are the romantic type, and we love to reminisce, especially about Wright State University.

To celebrate Jacob graduating (since he won’t get to have his actual ceremony until the school’s December commencement), we walked around campus and visited all of our favorite spots: the library, the old writing center where we worked together, the engineering and liberal arts buildings, and the classroom where we met.

It’s amazing how much Wright State has been a part of our lives. It’s where we met. Where we worked together and lived next door to each other. Where we had our first date and first kiss. Where we said “I love you” for the first time. It’s where Jacob proposed and where we planned our future together. Best of all, it’s where we got married.

After seven years and three degrees between the two of us, Wright State has become my favorite place in the world.

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Wright State University’s Alumni Tower

To celebrate our anniversary, we also were nostalgic and did what we alway do on our anniversary—recreate parts of our honeymoon. We went to the Ohio State Fair and saw Casting Crowns in concert. Then we went down to Cincinnati for a night, doing a riverboat tour and staying in a riverfront hotel.

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We love staying on the river in Cincinnati!

All of these places hold so many special memories for me. I love getting to walk down memory lane with Jacob every year as we celebrate our anniversary. I can’t believe we’ve already been married for three years! I know there will be many, many more years to come filled with even more special memories and places.

We had to say goodbye to Wright State, but now we’re stepping into our future. We’re an aunt and uncle now. Jacob has two college degrees and will be starting his third at the University of Cincinnati next week. And we’re starting our fourth year of marriage more in love than ever.

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Our view from our riverboat tour. We’ve done one each year for our anniversary.

I’ve really enjoyed taking a break from work and celebrating all of these occasions, but now I’m feeling nice and refreshed and ready to get going on my work-in-progress!

My First Post for We Are Beautiful!

Last month I announced that I would be writing for the Christian blog We Are Beautiful, and today my first post was published on their blog!

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We Are Beautiful

I’m so excited for this chance to write devotionals, which I’ve felt God calling me to write in addition to my fiction. The theme for We Are Beautiful’s posts this month is vulnerability with references from Psalms.

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Photo and Graphic by Allison Mims

Vulnerability is something that I struggle with, as I naturally try to control all aspects of my life. Check out my post on their website to learn how I’m working on giving up control and being vulnerable before God. I’d love to know what you think!

Psalm 40
Photo and Graphic by Allison Mims

Favorite Book Feature: Midnight at the Electric

Last year I featured some of my favorite books each month with special posts saying why I love these books. You can check out my favorites book page to find links to my reviews of all of my favorites. But because I’m always adding new books to my favorites list, I thought I’d do new features each time another book makes the list.

Ask any book lover their favorite book, and they’ll find it nearly impossible to name just one. I have over fifty books on my favorites list, if you count all the books in series. If I absolutely had to say one book, it would be Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. But there are so many books that resonate with me for many different reasons, and so I call them all my favorites.

The newest addition to the list is a book I’ve read three times this year—Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

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Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

I had this book on my TBR ever since I first heard about it because the cover is beautiful and the title intrigued me. I was excited to read it, but I was just blown away by this story. Both historical and science fiction; set in 1919, 1934, and 2065; told in narrative, letters, and diaries; and featuring three incredible girls; this is a beautiful story about fate and lives connecting across centuries.

I have a hard time articulating why this book is so amazing. I think that’s why I’ve read it three times this year—I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how Anderson does it. This book examines the horrors of World War I and the Dust Bowl, and looks to a hopeful future on Mars. Each of the main characters—Adri, Catherine, and Lenore—all have distinct voices and compelling stories. The audiobook version is also fantastic.

I think the main reason I love this book is because of how much it has inspired my work-in-progress. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to write about, but reading this book made everything with my story click into place. I might just have to read it again before I start writing the first draft of my book.

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Some of my research for my work-in-progress

Are there any books you reread to figure out how the authors made them so amazing?

Give Yourself a Break

Are you burnt out from trying to reach your goals?

Last week I wrote a reflection about how I’m falling behind with my 2018 goals. I discussed how I was going to refocus, since focus is my word for the year. I realized I needed to focus on God and what he is doing in my life in order to accomplish my writing goals. And I took a deep breath so that I could refocus.

But first, I’m giving myself a break.

I’m burnt out from struggling to reach my goals for this year. I felt like I should be a lot further than I was, and I was beating myself up because I wasn’t. So this week I’m resting. I’m taking a step back from my writing work to give myself a reset.

Breaks like these are necessary to keep going with writing. Writing is hard and lonely work, and it’s so easy to get burnt out. It’s especially easy to get burnt out if you’re struggling to reach goals that maybe aren’t the right goals for you or if something happens in life that gets you off track, like dealing with a medical issue.

I switched writing projects recently, and so am only starting to begin the research on this new book. So of course I’m not going to reach the goal of writing a draft of my book this year. And that’s okay.

Taking this week off has helped me to reset my mind. It’s helped me to relax and refocus, which is exactly what I need to do if I want to write this new book.

However, just because I’m taking a break from most of my work, it doesn’t mean I’m not working at all. I’m just doing relaxed work. Some things I did this week are:

  • Build a 1000 piece puzzle while listening to audiobooks, both fiction and research books for my work-in-progress.
  • Kept up on social media, but only spent half as long online as usual.
  • Had coffee with a writer friend and discussed the themes in my work-in-progress.
  • Not write out my normal daily to do lists on my white board.

I still managed to work this week, but I did so in a completely relaxed, no-pressure-to-get-things-done way.

And because I did this, I feel ready to get back at is next week and refocus.

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The bookish puzzle I built this week.

Are you feeling burnt out too? Give yourself a break. Keep your mind active, but rest. Build a puzzle. Go for a walk. Talk over ideas with a friend. Relax. And get back at it next week.

Refocus

This is the first week of July, which means we’re at the halfway point of 2018, so I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my goals for this year and see how I’m doing.

Instead of making new year’s resolutions, I choose one word to guide me for the year. 2018’s word is focus, but so far I feel like I’ve done everything but focus.

I started this year off by wanting to focus on writing and on God, which would help me accomplish my writing goals of writing a draft of my work-in-progress, writing a query for that book, and reading 45 books.

While I’m right on track with my reading goals—having just finished my 24th book this year (53% of 45 books), I still haven’t written much this year.

The main reason for being behind on my goals is that I switched novel projects. I shared why I switched book projects in my post Write Through It. Doubts about my work-in-progress and medical issues had been keeping me from working, but then God finally answered my prayers by both telling me what to write and by finally healing my eye.

I’m so unbelievably thankful both that my eye works again and for this beautiful story God has asked me to write. And focusing on God by praying for these things is what eventually brought me healing and this new idea. But I feel like I need to take a step back at this halfway point in the year to take a deep breath and refocus.

That’s what 2018 is supposed to be about for me—focusing.

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Philippians 3:13

I need to put my past behind me. All of the pain and suffering. All of the self-doubt. All of the unfocused and lazy days. I need to focus on what is ahead.

Even though I feel like I’ve wasted half of a year by not producing anything, I haven’t. I’ve learned and grown. I’ve prayed more and trusted God with more of my life. I’m doing research for my new book project. I’m getting ready to write this book that I have a feeling will change my life.

So this is me refocusing:

I’m taking a deep breath.

I’m telling myself it’s okay to not write an entire book this year.

I’m reminding myself that I have to focus on God before I can focus on anything else, because without him our lives don’t mean anything.

I’m reminding myself that like my book project I am a work in progress. But that’s okay. I’ll get there.

Kelly Balarie Guest Post: 5 Tips to Being Battle Ready

I’ve had the privilege to be on Kelly Balarie’s launch team for her new book, Battle Ready, and I’ve loved this chance to read an advanced copy and to help launch this book into the world. Today I have a special guest post to share from Kelly about being battle ready. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

This book can seriously change your life. God is using this book to help me see how my thought patterns have been hurting me and how I can change my thoughts in order to change my life. Battle Ready is full of practical methods and mindsets you can adopt to help you be ready for all the battles you face. There’s a link at the end of this post to pre-order the book and get the accompanying prayer journal!

5 Tips to Being Battle Ready
By: Kelly Balarie

If a baby bird never moves out of the nest, she’ll never fly. If a toddler never takes that one inch forward, fearing falling, she’ll never walk. If a woman never takes a small step, she’ll continually stay, nowhere.

A small step out of move-out faith is mission-critical. Why? Faith brings to life what we cannot see, but desperately hope for.

Where do you stand on the faith-scale? 1-10? Do you see new life arising from your hopes, hunger, and hardships, or are you simply staying stuck, where you are?

You know, my life has lived as a big struggle. I’ve gone through an eating disorder, depression, a health scare that threatened to take my walking legs, financial debt struggles, heart-breaking and joy-stealing relational problems, companies going under, and constant self-doubt. The list goes on-and-on…

Nearly every time, in these situations, I thought: There’s no way out. This is impossible. I don’t know what to do. I am going under. I don’t have the (time, ability, resources or wisdom) to get through this. God won’t really be there for me; He’s got better things to do. I am stupid for letting this happen. No one understands. I’m all alone.

If faith is hope in what we cannot see, I’ve lived hopelessness. If it’s “impossible to please God without faith,” no wonder I felt so displeased with myself. If God says, “everything is possible for those who believe,” I suppose I haven’t believed.

The inclination here is to be angry at myself saying, You always mess up. You always fall short. You never do anything right.

But this is not how God speaks to me. This is not being Battle Ready.

Instead, God restores me by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Knowing this prepares my mind to walk into fearlessness, boldness, and purpose.

God’s grace welcomes in new faith. This is a vital, because faith is our greatest battle weapon. It takes us places, it tames our trials and it forges us ahead, like doubt never can.

So, how do you walk out life-changing faith? Here are a couple tips from my vast arsenal of faith-building, doubt-reducing, and life-changing thought-strategies I’ve discovered on my many battlefields of hardship:

5 Small Steps To Building Battle Ready Faith

  1. Envision Jesus one step ahead of you. If you know God is at the place you’re afraid of, how much more can you trust He’s preparing it for your arrival?
  2. Hear in your mind, continually: God really cares for me. The more we believe God sees us, the more we’ll believe He’ll see us through.
  3. Taste His victory history. If you remember how you felt when God came through last time, you can almost taste him doing the same thing again. Let your mouth water for His “new thing.”
  4. Inhale the reality, God is with you. Sure, there may be bumps in the boat. This doesn’t mean Jesus is sleeping. He’s fully aware of all you’re going through, the path He has you on, and your perfect escape with Him.
  5. Hold a light schedule. If you clear way in your schedule, you’ll make room to experience God’s Word in such a way where it can begin to dwell in you.

Pick up your shield of faith. When the enemy throws an arrow at you, like a random email that makes you feel sad or a rejection from a friend that leaves you disappointed, remember: God is with you, for you, and He is on your side. He is working out something in you and for you that’s even better than you expected.

You can become battle ready and live victoriously. You can prepare in advance rather than emotionally responding and reacting to the hardships that you face. God will give you peace as you learn His wisdom and strategies.

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Battle Ready by Kelly Balarie

About Battle Ready: Train Your Mind to Conquer Challenges, Defeat Doubt & Live Victoriously

“The best time to be strengthened against the Enemy’s tactics of doubt, disappointment, and devastation is before he makes his first move toward us. We all desperately need the biblical guidance and preparation found in Battle Ready!”

– Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times bestselling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

Battle Ready is a hands-on scriptural plan that teaches you twelve easy-to-implement, confidence-building mind-sets designed to transform your thoughts and, therefore, your life. You’ll gain practical wisdom, like how to:

  • make new habits stick in just five steps
  • disarm the seven most common attacks that plague women
  • exchange self-limiting thoughts for purpose-driven, love-releasing thoughts
  • implement thirty-second mind-lifters that deliver peace
  • create boundaries so you live life full of what matters

Battle Ready releases July 3rd! Pre-order Battle Ready here.

To download your pre-order bonuses and to get Battle Ready freebies after the book is released—printables, devotional reminders, a customizable daily Battle Plan, and the “Find Your Battle Style” quiz—visit: www.iambattleready.com

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Battle Ready Daily Prayer Journal

To order the companion Battle Ready Daily Prayer Journal that will help you practically change your thoughts, then your life, click here.

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Author Kelly Balarie

Kelly Balarie, an author and national speaker, is on a mission to encourage others not to give up. Through times of extreme testing, Kelly believes there is hope for every woman, every battle and in every circumstance. She shares this hope on her blog, Purposeful Faith, and on many writing publications such as Relevant, Crosswalk, and Today’s Christian Woman. Kelly’s work has been featured on The Today Show, 700 Club Interactive, Moody Radio and other television and radio broadcasts. When Kelly is not writing, she is chilling at the beach with her husband, a latte, and 2-toddlers who rightfully demand she build them awesome castles.