The sentence that changed my writing life

About 7 years ago, I attended Karitos, a arts conference for Christians. The conference has workshop tracks in a variety of different disciplines including sound/tech, visual arts, dance, writing, worship leading, theater and the business side of music production. Conferees aren’t required to lock into a specific track when they register – they’re free to attend whatever workshop they like. Some people lock in on one discipline throughout the conference. Others take the smorgasbord approach, filling their plates with creative input from as many different tracks as their schedules allow.

Though I was there with the dance ministry from our church in WI, I’d planned to treat Karitos as a creative Old County Buffet that year. I’d attend a dance workshop or two with the team from church, but planned to sample some theater and writing workshops as well.

My plans changed when I found myself in a playwriting workshop with a veteran New York director. (His name escapes me right now, I’m afraid.) He told us we’d each be developing a 10-minute play in his series of workshops at the conference. He’d instruct, we’d go off and write. We’d come back and read, and he (and the others in the workshop) would critique. And then we’d do it all over again.

I came to Karitos that year with some playwriting experience. I’d sold a fair number of skits to church publishers, and had been through the development process with 3 full-length plays. But I’d never huddled in a tiny, out-of-the-way classroom at a conference with a half a handful of other writers and bared my soul as I incubated an idea. It was a safe, supportive environment and transformed the grueling first draft process into a joyful, revelatory experience.

But it was a single sentence in the first workshop of the day that changed my life as a writer and caused me to scrap my plans to snack on a variety of different sessions. The theater instructor encouraged us to brainstorm ideas for our scripts. I wrote down a couple, and knew immediately that one of them had live current flowing through it.

Your script could go like that,the instructor said, affirming each of us with our initial ideas. “…or it could go like this.” He asked us to push at our initial concept, and come up with another storyline based on it. At first, I congratulated myself for coming up with a second idea that was even stronger than my first script concept. Until he made us do this two more times. My first and second ideas were good, and I wanted to rest there. But his words wouldn’t let me. He asked me to dig far deeper into unsurveyed terrain than I’d ever done before. I was terrified I would hit a hollow cave. The gut-twisting process forced me to confront my fears, and compelled me to discover the real truth buried inside that first good idea.

I spent most of the rest of the conference scripting the fourth variation of that idea. (If you’re curious, I have it written in story form, and I’d be glad to send it to you to read.)

Though I loved brainstorming, and well knew that the first idea was hardly ever the finished product, I’d never had anyone goad me on like that before. When I’m starting a writing project now, I still hear his words: “It could go like that…or it could go like this.” They keep me from doing the easy thing. Or the first one.

Writers, speakers, teachers, pastors – what simple sentence has changed the way you approach your work?

P.S. – This year’s Karitos will be held in Bolingbrook on July 16-18. Check it out here. I’ll be teaching a couple of workshops this year, praying that some in attendance will have the kind of breakthrough I did a few years ago. Other writing instructors this year include Keri Wyatt Kent, Nicole Mazzarella and Diane Eble.

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3 thoughts on “The sentence that changed my writing life”

  1. The man who preached at my instalation twenty-two years ago said, "preach the word in such a way that all may know and understand the Gospel…"

  2. "That all may know and understand the Gospel" – those words capture the essence, don't they?

    Something tells me that those are the words you're now passing on to pastoral students you mentor.

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